The final grade I steeplechase race of 2002 attracted 11 entries, but four are after a bigger prize than the $60,000 winner's share of the Marion du Pont Scott Colonial Cup (NSA-I), which highlights Sunday's season-ending Colonial Cup Races at Springdale Race Course Camden, S.C.Flat Top, It's A Giggle, All Gong and Tres Touche bring legitimate Eclipse Award hopes into the race's 33rd running. Founded in 1970, the Colonial Cup was the first American steeplechase with a $100,000 purse. At 2 3/4 miles over a championship course with 17 fences, the race annually attracts the best steeplechasers in training and has been won by 12 champions.If one of the quartet above gets to the finish line first, an Eclipse Award is a distinct possibility. In addition, either It's A Giggle and Flat Top need to win to nail down the National Steeplechase Association's new Lonesome Glory Champions Award as the year's leading earner.Flat Top and It's A Giggle bring the best credentials. The former, owned by Nancy Gerry of Locust Valley, N.Y., comes off a powerful score in the Oct. 19 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase (NSA-I). The 9-year-old son of Alleged won the 1998 Carolina Cup (NSA-I) on his way to an Eclipse Award, and turned back the calendar to that year with his wire-to-wire win in the Breeders' Cup. A Keeneland Sales graduate once owned by noted flat owner Ken Ramsey, Flat Top is fourth on the NSA earnings list with $532,306 in career earnings."He worked (Tuesday morning) and he's in good shape," said trainer Janet Elliot from her Pennsylvania farm. "I don't think we're going to fool anyone like we did in the Breeders' Cup. He's ready, and will ship to Camden the end of the week."It's A Giggle had the Eclipse Award in his back pocket with three
consecutive wins (including the grade I Royal Chase in April and the grade II A.P. Smithwick in August) to start the year. Rain has conspired against the 8-year-old son of Northern Baby since. He was pulled up as the favorite in the soft turf of the New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga Aug. 29. When rain soaked the course before the Breeders' Cup, trainer Jonathan Sheppard opted not to enter."I hope it doesn't rain too much down there because I want to ride him in the race," said jockey Gus Brown. "Flat Top's the horse to beat, but Tres Touche always seems to run his race and All Gong ran well enough in the race last year."Tres Touche comes into the Cup off an easy win in the Noel Laing Stakes Nov. 2 at Montpelier. Winless in five career grade I starts, the 5-year-old was second to Flat Top in the Breeders' Cup and should be ideally suited to the race's distance. The Maryland-bred beat the field to one finish line already-he's in Camden to undergo final preparations."He had a school over the fences there Sunday (Nov. 9) and went very well," said jockey Dave Bentley. "He will be ready."Calvin Houghland's All Gong, second in the 2001 Colonial Cup, won the Iroquois Steeplechase (gr. I) in May and finished third in the Breeders' Cup for trainer Bruce Miller. No steeplechaser has won more than one grade I steeplechase this year, and Miller thinks his 8-year-old English import is sitting on a big effort."He's a fast-ground horse, that's why we were able to bring him to America," said the trainer. "He didn't get fast ground at Shawan Downs (a third-place finish in September) or in the Breeders' Cup. It should be ground he likes Sunday."The rest of the Cup field appears to be overmatched, though Saratoga allowance winner Shamrock Isle has the credentials to pull the upset. The 7-year-old son of Allen's Prospect won a classy Saratoga allowance this summer, and comes off a third in the Appleton Stakes Oct. 19 at Far Hills. Turkish Corner, another Bruce Miller trainee, was fifth in the Breeders' Cup and has been competitive against top competition on several occasions.The field in post position order (with trainer and jockey). All horses carry 156 pounds:
1. Shamrock Isle, Jack Fisher, Jonathan Riddell.
2. Tres Touche, Ricky Hendriks, Dave Bentley.
3. All Gong, Bruce Miller, Chip Miller.
4. Unalienable Right, Arch Kingsley, TBA.
5. Trebizond, Kathy Neilson, Roger Horgan.
6. It's A Giggle, Jonathan Sheppard, Gus Brown.
7. Turkish Corner, Bruce Miller, TBA.
8. Hendler, Don Yovanovich, Richard Boucher.
9. Loverineveryport, Kathy Neilson, Michael Traurig.
10. Flat Top, Janet Elliot, Rob Massey.
11. Dowdstown Guest, Jimmy Day, Jeff Murphy.In other NSA news, a new award in honor of Lonesome Glory will be introduced Sunday after the Colonial Cup. Five-time steeplechase champion and career earnings leader Lonesome Glory will be honored at Sunday night's NSA Awards Dinner with the unveiling of the Lonesome Glory Champions Award to the season's leading earner.A bronze statue by artist Margery Toorey, the award was commissioned by the family of Lonesome Glory's owner Kay Jeffords. The 15-inch bronze features the chestnut horse, who won steeplechase Eclipse Awards in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999 and earned more than $1.3 million. Lonesome Glory retired after the 1999 season, and died early this year after being injured in a paddock accident.In addition to the Lonesome Glory award, Sunday night's awards ceremony, at the Springdale Hall Club in Camden, S.C., will honor all of the 2002 NSA leaders including owner, trainer, jockey and several horse categories.