Al Skywalker Chases Record 3rd Carolina Cup

(from National Steeplechase report)
Two-time race winner Al Skywalker heads a group of six horses entered in the $50,000 Carolina First Carolina Cup (NSA-III), which will be held at Camden, South Carolina this Saturday.

In addition to Al Skywalker, a winner of $431,841, the entries include grade I novice winner Hirapour (Ire), grade III winner Imperial Gold (NZ) and 2004 stakes winner Preemptive Strike.

Al Skywalker will try to make history on Saturday by becoming the first horse in the 72-year history of the Carolina Cup to win the 2 1/4-mile hurdle stakes three times.

Owned and trained by Jennifer Majette in Southern Pines, N.C., the 11-year-old son of Skywalker highlights a seven-race card at the Carolina Cup Races. Winner of the race in 2001 and 2003 (and second in 2002), Al Skywalker will try to halt a four-race losing streak that includes a disappointing 2004 debut at Little Everglades.

"We were a little short at Little Everglades, which we knew though I didn't think we'd be that short," said Majette. "He's good now, and ready to go. I'm a little worried about the weight (158 pounds), but we've got to run. He is about twice the age of some of them."

At Little Everglades, Al Skywalker led for 1 1/2 miles before stopping badly to finish fourth.

Bred in California by Evergreen Thoroughbreds and trained on the flat by Jenine Sahadi before switching to steeplechase racing, Al Skywalker brings a dozen career victories into the race. David Bentley, the 2003 champion jockey, has the ride.

He faces five quality opponents headed by Irish-bred Hirapour. A winner of his last six jump starts (five in England, one in the U.S.), Hirapour tackles open company for the first time but is a major player based on his form. Owned by Eldon Farm and trained by Doug Fout, Hirapour won a training flat race at Aiken March 20 and will be ridden by New Zealand champion jockey Clayton Chipperfield, who recently signed a contract to ride for Fout in the U.S.

"His prep race at Aiken was real easy," said Fout, who also entered Eldon's stakes winner Imperial Gold. "He came out of the race fine and had a good school on Wednesday. He jumped big over the Cup fences the first time which they do and then he smoked them the second time."

Polaris Stable's Preemptive Strike, fresh off his first career stakes win at Little Everglades March 7, returns for trainer Paul Rowland. The improving 6-year-old finished second to Hirapour at Callaway Gardens last year and is a threat to win his second in a row, especially if he can get a similar stalking trip to his run in Florida.

English-bred Michele Marieschi makes his stakes debut for Whitewood Farm and trainer Richard Valentine. Beaten just once in his U.S. career, the rangy 7-year-old gets a class test but should adapt well to the bigger Springdale fences.

Gill Johnston's Mulahen was competitive behind champion McDynamo and proven Grade I horse Praise The Prince last year, and brings a solid chance to get his first U.S. stakes win for trainer Kathy Neilson. The horse jumped around the course last year in the Colonial Cup, and has trained in Camden all winter.

$50,000 Carolina First Carolina Cup (NSA-III), 4 & up, about 19 furlongs
1. Michele Marieschi (GB), 146, McCormack
2. Preemptive Strike, 146, Walsh
3. Hirapour (Ire), 146, Chipperfield
4. Mulahen (GB), 154, Massey
5. Imperial Gold (NZ), 154, Griffiths
6. Al Skywalker, 158, Bentley