Steeplechasers will be part of the Triple Crown show at Belmont Park this week, as a solid field of 11 was entered for Thursday's $100,000 Meadow Brook Stakes (National Steeplechase Association grade I) over National Fences.The final leg of the Steeplechase Triple Crown attracted a wide-open field that includes the first three finishers from the series' first stage at Churchill Downs May 1. Trebizond, Naughty Prince and Fighting Star finished 1 1/4 lengths apart that day but missed a chance at a rematch at Pimlico when heavy rains canceled the second leg of the series."The time off didn't hurt, he looks well and we're ready," said Kathy Neilson, who trains Trebizond for Delaware resident Bill Lickle. "He had his final breeze the other day and he'll spend the rest of the time eating grass and getting fresh for Thursday."A 7-year-old Irish-bred, Trebizond rallied in the final yards to win the
Hard Scuffle (NSA-I) at Churchill and should relish the Meadow Brook's 2 1/2-mile distance. Trebizond has won three of 13 career jump starts, and has earned $141,000 The son of Sadler's Wells will have to race without jockey Rob Massey, who was aboard for the Churchill win. First-call for trainer Doug Fout, Massey was committed to Imperial Gold for the Meadow Brook so Neilson engaged Tom Foley for Trebizond. Imperial Gold had a training setback this week, and wasn't entered for Belmont, so Massey jumped to Fighting Star for trainer Janet Elliot. Third at Churchill, Fighting Star is owned by veteran flat trainer Willard C. "Mike" Freeman."It was a big disappointment to not have Imperial Gold to ride, but I was lucky enough to catch Janet before she got somebody else," said Massey, who is tied with Gus Brown atop the 2003 National Steeplechase Association jockey standings with nine wins. "I like (Fighting Star). I saw him win at Atlantic City (April 23), and I was pretty impressed with his run around Churchill. There was nothing between the first three that day. Any of us could have won it, really."Contrarian Stable's Naughty Prince led the Hard Scuffle field over the final fence, but couldn't withstand Trebizond's late run and settled for second for trainer Ricky Hendriks. The 4-year-old sports a 2-for-3 mark this year, and carries a feathery 141 pounds including 2002 champion jockey David Bentley.Two series newcomers cast long shadows on the field. Augustin Stable's Senor Melchor is a perfect 3-for-3 over jumps (all this year) for trainer Sanna Hendriks. The gray son of Strodes Creek has quickly advanced to stakes contender with a maiden win on April 12, a minor allowance score on April 26 and another allowance victory on May 3. Regular jockey Jody Petty gets the riding assignment. Bred in Kentucky, Senor Melchor took the roundabout route to steeplechasing. He won on the flat in Chile, spent time in California with Neil Drysdale and came to Hendriks' barn late last year."He's been the most pleasant surprise of the spring," said Hendriks, who won the Meadow Brook in 2001 with Praise The Prince. "Jogging around at home, you wouldn't know he was as good as he is. He's real lazy, so he's been tough to gauge. (The Meadow Brook) is a tough race, and we're taking a bit of a shot, but I don't think he'll disrespect himself. He's woken up quite a bit."
Whitewood Farm's Understood opened 2003 with a NSA grade III stakes score at Atlanta, and is no stranger to the Belmont turf course. The 7-year-old son of Pistolet Bleu raced on the flat for trainer Rick Violette, winning three races and competing in several graded stakes. Converted to jumping last year, Understood has won twice in eight starts for Virginia-based trainer Richard Valentine.The Meadow Brook will be the ninth race of the day on Thursday, and will be run at a distance of 2 1/2 miles over 12 fences. The field (with owner, trainer, jockey, weight) in post position order:1. Naughty Prince (Contrarian Stable, Ricky Hendriks, David Bentley, 141).
2. Sham Aciss (Happenstance, Jack Fisher, Gus Brown, 148).
3. Understood (Whitewood Farm, Richard Valentine, Chip Miller, 151).
4. Trebizond (Bill Lickle, Kathy Neilson, Rob Massey, 154).
5. Preemptive Strike (Polaris Stable, Paul Rowland, Robbie Walsh, 151).
6. Senor Melchor (Augustin Stable, Sanna Hendriks, Jody Petty, 144).
7. Fighting Star (Willard C. "Mike" Freeman, Janet Elliot, Rob Massey, 151).
8. Hotspur (Peachtree Stable, Jonathan Sheppard, Matt McCarron, 151).
9. Mr Perkolater (Gillian Johnston, Kathy Neilson, Michael Traurig, 151).
10. Coal Dust (Armata Stable, Tom Voss, Cyril Murphy, 138).
11. Blasphemous (Jeremy Gillam, Jeremy Gillam, Diana Gillam, 151).