The National Steeplechase Association’s 2019 season kicks off within weeks at its traditional opening South Carolina race meets, the Aiken Spring Steeplechase on Saturday, March 23, and the Carolina Cup Steeplechase in Camden a week later on Saturday, March 30.
Both race meets are located in historic centers of winter horse training, and both welcome spring to the Carolinas with festive crowds and quality racing.
Aiken Spring always attracts a capacity crowd to the Aiken Horse Park and has a waiting list for prime tickets. The meet’s net revenues benefit a long list of local charities, including Helping Hands, Inc., Hitchcock Woods Foundation, The Cumbee Center, Public Education Partners, CanHope, Aiken S.P.C.A., Aiken Rescue Squad, Aiken Public Safety Horse Rescue Squad, National Steeplechase Association Injured Jockey Fund, and the Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame.
The racing kicks off at 1 p.m., and the afternoon’s feature will be the $30,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup, a ratings handicap for horses rated at 120 or lower. The ratings handicap is a popular race in which weights are determined by ratings assigned to each horse by a three-member expert panel overseen by NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr.
Also offering a $30,000 purse will be a Sport of Kings maiden hurdle. The Aiken schedule in the NSA’s condition book offers a second ratings handicap, the $20,000 Ford Conger, for horses at 110 or lower and have never won two races. Aiken Spring’s hurdle races are run at a two-mile distance.
The Carolina Cup will be run at Camden’s Springdale Race Course for the 87th time, with a 1:30 p.m. post time at the historic course.
For the first time, the $50,000 Carolina Cup will be run as a ratings handicap limited to horses rated at 130 or lower at a 2 3/8-mile distance. That level encompasses many of the sport’s quality runners, including 2018 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) winner Show Court, who is in training in Camden with Arch Kingsley Jr.
The Carolina Cup again will offer opportunities for horses beginning their careers over fences. A $35,000 allowance hurdle is limited to four-year-olds and older who have never won two races. Last year, Hudson River Farms’ Iranistan made his debut over fences in a similar race and won by 11½ lengths.
He won his next start by 10 lengths at the Middleburg Spring meet, and then defeated a quality field by six lengths in the Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle. Trainer and co-owner Jonathan Sheppard then sent him into top company, and he completed his inaugural jumps season with a second in the A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) and a third in the New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1).
Iranistan earned $145,000 in 2018 and was the year’s novice champion.
The Carolina Cup also will offer a $30,000 Sport of Kings maiden hurdle. Both the allowance hurdle and the Sport of Kings maiden will be run at 2 1/8 miles.
KershawHealth is a longtime charitable beneficiary of the Carolina Cup Steeplechase.
This year’s Carolina Cup will mark a leadership transition. John Cushman, who has been serving as interim executive director since early last year, will pass the reins to Toby Edwards this summer.
Edwards, a former steeplechase jockey and trainer, also serves as race director for the Tryon Block House Steeplechase and Charleston Steeplechase. Jeff Teter will continue as the Carolina Cup’s race director.