Tres Touche, Al Skywalker Battle in Carolina Cup

Edited release from National Steeplechase Association.

Cue the eerie Western music -- this race isn't big enough for both of these horses.

Proven stakes performers Tres Touche and Al Skywalker meet Saturday in the year's first National Steeplechase Association Grade I stakes, the $100,000 Carolina First Carolina Cup at Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C. Three others line up in the 2 1/4-mile race, but all eyes will be on the favorites.

Contrarian Stable's Tres Touche has yet to win a NSA Grade I, but finished a dramatic second to Flat Top in last year's Colonial Cup over the same course last fall. Michael Watt's Al Skywalker won the 2001 Carolina Cup and finished second last year. Looking for the upset will be Turkish Corner and Dynamite Vic, both winless since 2000, and Trebizond, who has never won a stakes.

Strategy-wise, the race is easy to figure out.

Al Skywalker is a confirmed front-runner, who simply tries to run away with races. The 2 3/8-mile distance suits the 10-year-old, who opened 2003 with a powerful stakes win at Little Everglades March 9. Trained in North Carolina by co-owner Jennifer Majette, Al Skywalker bids for his 11th career win.

Regular jockey Tom Foley will be aboard the California-bred.

Trained in Maryland by Ricky Hendriks, Tres Touche has won a race in the past three steeplechase seasons. The 6-year-old boasts seven wins and more than $300,000 in career earnings. The Maryland-bred jumped into championship contention with second-place finishes to eventual Eclipse Award winner Flat Top in the Breeders' Cup and the Colonial Cup last fall. In the latter, Tres Touche battled side-by-side with Flat Top for more than two miles before finally yielding in the stretch. A similar scenario could develop this time with Al Skywalker and Tres Touche, especially since the race is three furlongs shorter. Tres Touche tuned up with a third-place finish in an NSA training flat race last week at Aiken.

As for the longshots, Turkish Corner continues to search for the form he showed in 1999 and 2000. Twice a stakes winner in that time, the 7-year-old has lost 10 straight.

Trebizond finished fourth in the 2002 Colonial Cup, but gives away loads of experience to the top two choices.

Dynamite Vic won two races over hurdles when owned by Daniel Borislow in 2000, but has battled leg troubles ever since. The 7-year-old started twice in 2001 and just once last season.

The field with trainer and jockey in post position order:
Turkish Corner, Bruce Miller, Robbie Walsh
Tres Touche, Hendriks, Bentley
Al Skywalker, Majette, Foley
Trebizond, Kathy Neilson, Rob Massey
Dynamite Vic, Dan McCollum, Pat Cooney

Springdale again expects a sellout crowd of over 50,000, who use the race as a signal that spring has truly arrived in the south. The Carolina Cup headlines a seven-race card, which starts at 1:30 p.m.

Two-time U.S. champion jump jockey Gus Brown joined a select cast by riding his 100th career winner March 22 at Aiken, S.C. Brown, who ended 2002 with 99 jump victories, guided Michele Marieschi to a five-length score in a $20,000 allowance hurdle for owner Whitewood Farm and trainer Richard Valentine.

Brown is the 33rd jockey to win at least 100 NSA races, and came full circle with the milestone as he used to ride at George Ohrstorm's Whitewood Farm.

"Thank God it was for Mr. Ohrstrom, that meant a lot," said Brown afterward.

In other news from Aiken, Gill Johnston's Snowball Flannagan (Rob Massey)
rolled home in the $30,000 Regions Bank Imperial Cup hurdle stakes for trainer Janet Elliot. The 2002 claiming champion, an 8-year-old son of Affirmed, won a stakes for the first time.

After just two meets, Rob Massey (who won two at Aiken) holds a slim lead in the NSA jockey standings with three wins. David Bentley is second with two.
Among the trainers, Ricky Hendriks and Jack Fisher both have two wins.

Tom Voss, who won the last three NSA training titles, has yet to enter a horse.