The beginning of the 2018 National Steeplechase Association season is just days away, and preparations are moving ahead for the 52nd edition of the always-sold-out Aiken Spring Steeplechase.
Paul Sauerborn took over as the president of the Aiken Steeplechase before last year’s spring meet, but it was by no means his first time around the course. Nor the second. A native of Aiken, Sauerborn is serving his third term as president of the NSA’s kickoff spring event.
He is a horseman of a casual sort. He rides for pleasure and does not hunt, although his wife, Beth, was involved with hunters and jumpers.
After graduating from the University of South Carolina with a concentration on engineering and business, he returned home to a career as an executive of the Savannah River Site, once the source of America’s enriched plutonium and now a research center focusing on nuclear environmental safety.
The Savannah River Site is deeply involved in the Aiken community, and Sauerborn on his own decided to reconnect with his hometown. “If I was going to reinsert myself into the community, what better way than the Steeplechase,” he said.
Those first steps, of course, placed him in contact with the legendary Ford Conger, who was by no means a casual horseman. But they found plenty of common ground in their first encounters in the mid-1970s. Sauerborn’s first duties with the Steeplechase were logistical, but he also was given the command that rings out from every race committee: “Go find the money.”
Over the years, the Aiken Steeplechase has found the money it needed. “We tried to design our event around our community and community involvement,” Sauerborn said. “We’ve given back more than $1-million to the Aiken community. For a small community, that says a lot.”
Through his three times at the helm, the meet’s revenues have roughly doubled. In addition to Events Coordinator Jessica Miller, the Aiken Steeplechase employs a bookkeeper to keep an eye on all the expenses.
Grady McCollum, an assistant to the late Racing Hall of Fame trainer Michael G. Walsh, died Monday in Raleigh, N.C. He was 85. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Pinelawn Memorial Park in Southern Pines, N.C.
Irv Naylor’s Rawnaq, the 2016 Eclipse Award winner who missed last year’s racing season, has returned to training and heads the first edition of the National Steeplechase Association’s 2018 official ratings.
Inaugurated in 2015, the ratings evaluate every hurdles winner in training and determine eligibility for ratings handicaps. The ratings are prepared by an expert three-member committee comprising Equibase chart caller Martin Chamberlin, Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Editor Joe Clancy, and Virginia Fall Race Director Will O’Keefe. Their work is overseen by NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr.
Rawnaq received a 156 rating, 10 points above 2017 Grand National (Gr. 1) winner Mr. Hot Stuff, who is second in the ratings. The Irish-bred suffered an injury last January but now has resumed training with Cyril Murphy at Naylor’s farm in Butler, Md.
He scored a memorable victory over two overseas invaders in the 2016 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park and won that year’s edition of the Grand National at the Far Hills Races. He also won Middleburg Spring’s Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) before his Iroquois victory.
Gillian Johnston’s Mr. Hot Stuff, a two-time Grade 1 winner who was Grade 1-placed on the flat, earned the NSA’s Lonesome Glory Award as 2017’s leading earner. The veteran, now 12, is trained by Jack Fisher.
The Tiznow gelding was rated one point ahead of Robert Kinsley’s Modem and Buttonwood Farm’s All the Way Jose, who finished second and third, respectively, in the Grand National. Modem was a nose behind Mr. Hot Stuff, and All the Way Jose was a nose farther back.
Also rated at 145 was Naylor’s Sempre Medici, an import who did not see action in 2016. Then trained by Willie Mullins, the French-bred won two Irish hurdles stakes leading up to the 2016 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, where he made a mistake at the second-to-last fence and was pulled up.
Bruton Street-US’s Scorpiancer, the National Steeplechase Association’s only two-time graded stakes winner in 2017, was crowned the year’s Eclipse Award winner as champion steeplechase horse at the annual awards dinner at Gulfstream Park in Florida on Thursday.
Irish-bred Scorpiancer won his only two starts of the season, the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) by 16 lengths after his victory in the Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3). Trained by Jack Fisher, he prevailed in the Eclipse Award balloting in a highly competitive season in which five horses won the year’s five Grade 1 races.
Accepting the Eclipse trophy were the three friends who make up Bruton Street-US: Mike Hankin, Charlie Fenwick, and Charlie Noell. Accompanying them were Fisher and the two jockeys who have ridden Scorpiancer in his American career, Connor Hankin and Sean McDermott, who was aboard for the two 2017 wins.
“He’s a really good horse. And we’ve been really really lucky to be part of a fun team watching this horse come over from England and run so well here,” Mike Hankin said in accepting the Eclipse for Bruton Street-US.
“It’s a privilege to be here with all of you. Steeplechase racing has long been thought of as a great afterlife for flat horses. It’s gotten pretty exciting. The last year, the biggest purse of the year was $400,000 and is going up to $500,000 in two years. We’re big on our sport, and we appreciate being recognized as part of Thoroughbred flat racing tonight.”
The Irish-bred, who did not race after his Iroquois victory in Nashville on May 13, topped the NSA’s Theoretical Handicap at 158 pounds.
Other finalists for the Eclipse were Gillian Johnston’s Mr. Hot Stuff, winner of the $400,000 Grand National (Gr. 1) at Far Hills, N.J., on Oct. 21, and Buttonwood Farm’s All the Way Jose, who won Belmont Park’s $150,000 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) on Sept. 21. They were rated at 148 pounds in the Theoretical Handicap.
Scorpiancer led the Eclipse balloting with 92 votes, followed by All the Way Jose at 70 and Mr. Hot Stuff at 35. Also receiving votes were Robert Kinsley’s Modem (7), Flying Elvis Stable’s Diplomat (4), and Rosbrian Farm’s Swansea Mile (3).
Fisher also trained Mr. Hot Stuff, and All the Way Jose was trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard.
Gillian Johnston’s Mr. Hot Stuff, gutsy winner of the $400,000 Grand National (Gr. 1) last fall, was crowned the National Steeplechase Association’s Lonesome Glory Award winner as 2017’s leading earner at the NSA’s gala awards dinner Thursday evening at the Maryland Club in Baltimore.
The dinner and awards ceremony, sponsored by the NSA and the Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association, attracted a crowd of more than 140 to toast the champions of the 2017 racing season.
NSA President Guy J. Torsilieri presented the Lonesome Glory Award to the staff members of Jack Fisher’s barn who cared for Mr. Hot Stuff through the 2017 season.
The steeplechase veteran, then 11, capped his long career with a nose victory in Far Hills’ Grand National, the year’s richest race. His earnings totaled $251,000, well clear of Buttonwood Farm’s All the Way Jose, the Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) winner who finished third in the Grand National.
Mr. Hot Stuff and All the Way Jose are finalists for the year’s Eclipse Award with Bruton Street-US’s Scorpiancer, who was undefeated in his two 2017 starts, the Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) at the Middleburg Spring Races in April and the Iroquois Steeplechase’s $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) in May. The Eclipse Awards will be announced next Thursday at Gulfstream Park.
Reigning as the year’s leading owner was Bruton Street-US, the racing operation of Maryland friends Mike Hankin, Charlie Fenwick, and Charlie Noell. It edged Mrs. Johnston for the title with $438,500 in 2017 earnings.
In addition to Scorpiancer, Bruton Street-US raced novice champion Moscato, winner of Saratoga Race Course’s Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes and Belmont Park’s William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes.
The National Steeplechase Association’s condition book for the 2018 spring season is out, and the lineup promises record-smashing purses and the launch of the new Georgia Steeplechase meet.
The program developed by NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr. will offer $2,890,000 in purses, up from the record $2,780,400 in 2017. After the condition book was posted, the Grand National purse was raised by 66% to $50,000.
Heading the spring program is the Iroquois Steeplechase on Saturday, May 12, at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park. The NSA’s premier Midwest meet will offer $525,000 in purses, headed by the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) and the $100,000 Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle for novices.
The Virginia Gold Cup meet a week earlier at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains will offer $425,000 in purses. With attendance of approximately 70,000, the meet will be headlined by the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup for timber horses and the $75,000 David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) for hurdle competitors.
After the season kicks off on March 24 at the Aiken Spring Races, the action moves to Camden, S.C., for the Carolina Cup meet, which this year will be headlined by the $150,000 Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) and the $75,000 Carolina Cup for novices. Purses for the 86th Carolina Cup meet are projected at $325,000.
The historic Temple Gwathmey Handicap at the Middleburg Spring Races on April 21 will receive a $25,000 purse increase, to $75,000, and it will move up the ladder to Grade 2 status from Grade 3. In all, the meet at Middleburg’s Glenwood Park will offer $200,000 in purses.