Living up to his top rating and highweight, KMSN Stable’s Able Archer hit the target when he carried jockey Keiran Norris to a dominant 10 ½-length victory in the Budweiser Imperial Cup, the featured race of Saturday’s 52nd annual Aiken Spring Steeplechase.
Aiken Spring is always a sellout, and it opened the 2018 National Steeplechase Association season under partly sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-70s.
The $20,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup was limited to horses with ratings of 110 or lower, and Able Archer topped the weights at 158 pounds with his 110 rating. Trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard, he made the weight assignment appear feathery as he worked his way through a field of seven and drew away easily on the final turn.
The six-year-old Pennsylvania-bred by Eskendereya ran the Budweiser Imperial Cup’s two miles in 3:40 flat on firm turf.
Wendy Hendriks’ Say No Maux went out to a large early lead and led as the field passed the finish line for the second time. Norris, the 2016 jockey champion, waited pa.tiently for the speed to come back to him, with slight misgivings. “I was worried,” he said. “I was afraid I had let the speed get too far ahead of me.”
Able Archer was up to the challenge and worked his way through the field. “He just kept picking them up,” Norris said. Fourth as the field passed the finish the second time, Able Archer challenged for the lead nearing the final turn, took over easily, and won well within himself.
Price-Richardson Stable’s Indigo Heart finished second, 9 ½ lengths clear of Borderlinedecision in third.
Sheppard accounted for wins in three of Aiken Spring’s six races. For KMSN, he also notched a training flat victory with Inverness, ridden by Keri Brion. The apprentice jockey, who is Sheppard’s assistant trainer, also won a flat training victory aboard Kilronan for trainer Arch Kingsley Jr. Sheppard also trained Riverdee Stable’s Bite the Bit to a maiden hurdle victory.
Jack Doyle, back in full health and riding in top form, rode Bite the Bit and also won a maiden claiming hurdle aboard Sue Sensor’s Street Passage for trainer Fenneka T. Bentley.