Jonathan Sheppard has taken over for George Strawbridge as president of the National Steeplechase Association. Sheppard, who lives in Pennsylvania, was elected Jan. 16 to head a 15-member board of directors.
In related news, the NSA has reorganized the Steeplechase Triple Crown for 2004. After Churchill Downs opted not to renew the Hard Scuffle Stakes (NSA-I), and Pimlico Race Course passed on hosting the Joe Aitcheson (NSA-I), two NSA meets stepped up and agreed to card major novice hurdle stakes this spring.
The series consists of the April 10 Georgia Cup at the Atlanta Steeplechase in Kingston, Ga., the May 15 National Hunt Cup at the Radnor Races in Malvern, Pa., and the June 3 Meadow Brook Stakes at Belmont Park. All three legs carry grade I status from the NSA and are scheduled to be part of the Long John Silver's Wire to Wire program on the ESPN networks.
Sheppard, 63, was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 1990. He steps in at a time of growth in American steeplechasing. Last year, the number of horses, owners, and races increased, and purses of $4.94 million were the second-highest in history.
"I must admit that I never expected to see myself sitting here and I am sure some of you are as surprised as me," Sheppard told the board at the Jan. 16 meeting. "I have humbly accepted the position with a sense of enthusiasm and determination to give back something to the sport that has meant so much to me over the years."
Sheppard's connections in flat racing will be important as the NSA works on relationships with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Breeders' Cup, and racetracks. One of his first actions was to create an annual award for the "best new idea of the year" to encourage input from NSA horsemen and members.