Royal Chase Jump Starts Keeneland's Final Day

What do you get when you mix a Breeders1 Cup winner, a Saratoga Grade I winner, a speedy California-bred with a Grade I win, an Eclipse Award finalist and a champion? A steeplechase race at Keeneland.

The Royal Chase (NSA-I)) packs all of that and more into a seven-horse field set to face the starter Friday. If all horses start, the richest race on the NSA's spring calendar will be worth $186,250. The Royal Chase goes as the seventh race of the day, and will be joined by a $40,000 steeplechase allowance as the 10th on the closing day of the Lexington, Ky. track's spring meeting.

A quartet of standout steeplechasers will vie for favoritism in the 2 1/2-mile race over 12 jumps on the Keeneland turf course. The group includes 2001 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase (NSA-I) winner Quel Senor, 2001 New York Turf Writers Cup (NSA-I) winner It's A Giggle, 2001 Colonial Cup (NSA-I) winner Lord Zada and 1998 steeplechase champion (and 2000 Royal Chase winner) Flat Top.

The race lost some its luster when New Zealand entry Rand was scratched Wednesday morning. A major winner on three continents, Rand was injured while training at Keeneland Tuesday according to trainer Mark Oulaghan.

The Americans will put on a good show, however, thanks to the power-packed lineup. Nancy Gerry's Flat Top, the 1998 steeplechase champion, brings the gaudiest resume. A Keeneland Sales graduate ($20,000 as a yearling in 1994), the son of Alleged has put up seven wins and more than $350,000 in a steeplechase career that began in 1996.

Coppertree Farm's Quel Senor burst into the championship picture with a convincing win in the $250,000 Breeders1 Cup Steeplechase last fall but consistency has been the French import's downfall. Once trained
by Neil Drysdale on the flat and now in the capable hands of 2001 NSA champion trainer Tom Voss, Quel Senor failed to finish twice in his final three starts of last season. The 7-year-old makes his 2002 debut.

Bill Pape's It's A Giggle won three races at Saratoga last summer, so he thrives on the flat and fast racetrack turf courses. The Pennsylvania-bred son of all-time leading U.S. jump sire Northern Baby prepped for Keeneland with an easy win in the $25,000 Sandhills Cup in North Carolina April 6. Trained by Jonathan Sheppard, the 8-year-old runs his best races when he can relax on an easy lead. Blythe Miller, who1s won four straight on the horse, returns for the ride.

Jennifer Majette's Al Skywalker faded to seventh after setting much of the pace in the 2001 Royal Chase, and will probably try to again race near the front. Bred in California by Evergreen Farm, the 9-year-old finished second in the March 30 Carolina Cup after getting bothered at the last fence by Lord Zada.

The field (in post position order, with owner, trainer and jockey). All
starters carry 158 pounds.

1. Quel Senor: Coppertree Farm, Tom Voss, Cyril Murphy.
2. It's A Giggle: Bill Pape, Jonathan Sheppard, Blythe Miller.
3. Al Skywalker: Jennifer Majette, Jennifer Majette, Tom Foley.
4. Shamrock Isle: Edie Dixon, Jack Fisher, Arch Kingsley.
6. Lord Zada: Augustin Stable, Sanna Neilson, Gus Brown.
7. Turkish Corner: Kay Jeffords, Bruce Miller, Chip Miller.
8. Flat Top: Nancy Gerry, Janet Elliot, Robert Massey.