The 51st annual High Hope Steeplechase kicks off the National Steeplechase Association’s fall season on Sunday with full fields for its six races at Lexington’s Kentucky Horse Park, two $25,000 divisions of the featured Oxmoor Steeplechase ratings handicap, and the beginning of high-definition video coverage for every NSA race meet.
First post time is 1 p.m. for the High Hope Steeplechase, which takes its new place at the start of the fall championship season after formerly racing in the spring.
The Oxmoor Steeplechase, a 2 3/8-mile handicap for horses with NSA ratings 120 or lower, drew a total of 17 entries and was split into two divisions.
Heading the first division is Team Ollie’s Orchestra Leader, a nine-year-old veteran with 10 victories on his race record. Claimed by trainer Jimmy Day from a victory at Foxfield Fall last year, Orchestra Leader finished third in a tough Iroquois Steeplechase ratings handicap on May 12. In his most recent start, he was pulled up in a Fair Hill Races allowance hurdle later in May.
Day named apprentice Keri Brion to ride, and Orchestra Leader will carry 153 pounds with the five-pound apprentice allowance.
Michael Mitchell rode two winners at Saratoga Race Course and another at Monmouth Park this summer, and he will seek to continue his success aboard Thomas Hulfish’s Swellelegent, winner of Monmouth’s ratings handicap on Aug. 9.
Trained by Neil Morris, Swellelegent subsequently finished fourth in Saratoga’s Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes on Aug. 22. The six-year-old Pure Prize gelding carries 157.
Also in the first division’s field is Rosbrian Farm’s Cheers to Us, who finished a nose behind Swellelegent in the Monmouth race. Ross Geraghty, currently the top jockey by purse winnings, has the mount for trainer Ricky Hendriks.
Jack Doyle, who leads the jockey standings by wins, will be aboard Robert A. Kinsley’s Unsinkable for trainer Elizabeth Voss. Irish-bred Unsinkable is coming off a dominant, front-running victory in a Radnor Hunt Races allowance hurdle on May 19.
In the Oxmoor Steeplechase’s second division, trainer Billy Santoro will saddle top-rated L’Aigle Royal, who will be ridden by apprentice Alex Leventhal and will carry 153 pounds with the five-pound break in the weights.
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Dark Gemini captures Spa finale
Serendipity Stables' (Wendy Griswold and Charlene Lund Peterson) odds-on favorite ran like a champ en route to a 5 1/4-length score on Aug. 29 in the sixth and final hurdle race of the Saratoga season. Trained by Jack Fisher and ridden by Willie McCarthy, the allowance contest was the second victory of the season for both trainer and rider. Unfortunately, Dark Gemini came out of the race with a bowed tendon, but he should be OK -- possibly even to race again -- after some time off, according to the trainer's wife, Sheila Fisher. Here are the photo highlights.