by Craig Braddick
The 2019 National Steeplechase Association season kicks off at the ever-popular Aiken Spring Steeplechase on Saturday with six races all offering excitement for the fans not only on track but also watching remotely the livestream on the NSA Network. The weather looks to be perfect, slightly sunny skies and a high of 67 degrees – so for the first time in 2019, “Let’s Go Racing!” (Full past performances are available at www.equibase.com)
Race 1: Don’t let the small field of three fool you. Finding the winner here is not easy. Sim Card is already in my notebook as a promising hurdler and I think is already better at a longer distance than Saturday’s 1¼-mile trip. However, it’s great to see 10lb apprentice Nancy Ruch get the ride. If this were a hurdle, he would be my pick. Long Black is an unknown quantity though worked promisingly at Camden on March 16. Ricky Hendriks and Ross Geraghty get their season underway with Capo Dei Capi, despite coming off a nine-month layoff would seem ideally suited to today’s distance. Selection: CAPO DEI CAPI.
Race 2: A field of five gives Show Court a chance to make every post a winning one. He closed out 2018 with a nice win and took a Grade 1 hurdle at Saratoga last summer. His main rival will be All Out of Aces, who won a $20,000 claimer at Keeneland last spring and had a very successful campaign on the flat in 2017 at Delaware Park. Argentic can win this based on his French form and will look to sweep the early two races for the Hendriks-Geraghty combo. He was recently fifth in a $30k Claimer at Gulfstream Park. I feel he may thrive with more cover early than he is likely to see. Selection: SHOW COURT.
Race 3: The first hurdle race of the year is a $30,000 Sport of Kings race for maidens, and a field of 10 with an also-eligible will ensure a competitive race. Not many front-running types here, but Soluble may be taken to the front early by Sean McDermott. Second on his last 2018 start at Callaway, this German-bred certainly showed enough potential to be competitive in this field. Durango Dan won in Kentucky in 2016 and 2017 and showed some aptitude on the artificial surface at Presque Isle Downs last fall – one to take note of for the future. If Sim Card wins the opener this will justify the form of You’re No Better who was third to Sim Card last time out at Charleston in November. Selection: SOLUBLE but YOU’RE NO BETTER if Sim Card wins the first race.
Race 4: Another maiden hurdle, this one for $15,000, over two miles and another large field! Five Carat Cat had two wins on the flat in his last three starts in 2018 and is one to keep an eye on in the future. I am excited about the prospect of Chocklitcoverdonut back in the barn of William Wofford. This horse showed a liking for hurdles in his two efforts last fall, and I’m throwing out his eighth-place finish at Charleston last fall. Thomas Garner is a very capable rider, and I am glad to see him in the irons. If a hurdle debutant is going to win it may well be Geranium, who ran in good quality allowance company last time out at Saratoga last July and before that broke her flat maiden at Belmont in June of last year. Selection: CHOCKLITCOVERDONUT
Race 5: The Budweiser Imperial Cup – The $30,000 feature race of the day is a competitive ratings handicap. (At Sandown Park in the UK, the Imperial Cup is the feature race on day two of the Grand Military Meeting in early March and always attracts a large Hunting crowd.) Bobabout, despite sharing topweight, is going to be very tough to beat especially after his second in Radnor’s National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3) last May. Bobabout gives 3 lbs to Oskar Denarius and Kensington Court. Oskar Denarius was approaching mid-grade hurdle success in the UK when I followed him in 2017-2018, chalking up five wins from six races at one time. He has not quite yet found his mark in the USA, but 2019 may well be his year. Kensington Court was a very good third in the novice Aflac Supreme Hurdle at Callaway in fall 2017 behind the excellent Zanjabeel, and you can bet Kieran Norris will take this son of Giant’s Causeway into an early lead. Honorable mention for Barhanpour who a very game individual is and can certainly contend. Selection: BOBABOUT.
Race 6: The closing race of the day, a $20,000 ratings handicap, should give the Dalton family their first taste of the winner’s circle as Kate Dalton saddles Our Frosty with Bernie Dalton getting the leg-up. The team got off to a winning start over 2¼ miles at Aiken last fall, and all indications are she has worked well over the winter. In 2017 and 2018 she needed her first start of the year as a refresher, but I think her familiarity with the course and her front-running tendency are in her favor though she moves up in class. Bullet Star is a big danger at her best, but we have not seen her in nearly 10 months and with no works to report, I want to see how she does on Saturday and then follow her from there. The same can be said of Balistes, who may challenge for the lead early. Selection: OUR FROSTY.