By Joe Clancy
Trainer Bruce Miller plans to run Solo Lord and Pelagos at England's Cheltenham Festival in March. Both horses are owned by Leesburg, Va. resident Michael Hoffman, who hatched the idea of the English assault.Last year's Maryland Hunt Cup winner Solo Lord will attempt the William Hill Chase, a £70,000 open handicap at 3 1/16 miles on March 12. An allowance winner in 2001, Pelagos will start in the £125,000 Bonusprint Stayers Hurdle, a three-mile hurdle race to be run March 14. Blythe Miller, the trainer's daughter, will ride both horses.Solo Lord's American success, in point-to-points and the storied Hunt Cup has all come over timber fences. Stamina and jumping ability are the 10-year-old's strong suits as he exhibited in a 12-length romp in the $65,000 Hunt Cup last spring. The race, first run in 1894, is restricted to amateur jockeys so Hoffman was aboard for that win. Hunt Cup winners Jay Trump and Ben Nevis went on to win the famed English Grand National but Solo Lord will attempt a different English challenge over Cheltenham's steeplechase course."The horse can certainly jump the course and if he gets a decent weight (assignment) he could be competitive," said Bruce Miller, whose stable is based in Cochranville, Pa. "We're not going over with (five-time U.S. champion) Lonesome Glory, so it's a bit of a shot in the dark."Miller won two English races (one hurdle, one chase) with the now-retired Lonesome Glory, and was pointing America's career earnings leader to the 1998 Cheltenham Gold Cup before a pulled muscle derailed the plans.That experience should help."It was pretty quiet around here, but now we've got a lot to plan for and I like that," Miller said. "We've tried to duplicate the fences, and the horses are both training well – they are pretty far along."Pelagos' role in the plan is two-fold. The gray gelding, second to Eclipse Award finalist Praise the Prince in the Meadow Brook Stakes (NSA-I) last spring, will give his stablemate some company on the trip and also tackle his own racing assignment. The race attracted 48 entries including French star Baracouda, Irish hero Limestone Lad. Entries for the William Hill close
this week."It's a very difficult race, but the longer he goes the better," said Miller. "He's a pretty solid horse, and I know more about him than Solo Lord."Meanwhile, 2000 steeplechase champion All Gong will receive the first American invitation to compete in the $1.25 million Nakayama Grand Jump April 13 in Japan. The world's richest steeplechase annually invites horses from the U.S., England, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand to take on the best from Japan.Won by a horse from the host country in each of its first two runnings, the race is run over a variety of fences (generally higher and softer than U.S. hurdles) at 4,250 meters. Ninepins represented the U.S. in 2000, and finished ninth. Last year, Campanile was fifth in the race.New Zealand's Rand won a prep race in Japan and started as the heavy favorite in the Grand Jump before falling on the flat. He later came to the U.S. -- winning the NSA grade I Iroquois and placing third in the grade I Royal Chase. The powerful gray is expected to make a similar journey this year.Trained by Bruce Miller for Tennessee resident Calvin Houghland, All Gong finished second in five of his six starts of 2001 (after going 2-for-5 in 2000). The English-bred's chief wins came in the 2000 Atlanta Cup and 2000 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase. Regular jockey Blythe Miller, who rode Campanile in 2001, will be aboard in Japan.Other American nominations to the race were Campanile and Tres Touche.