The National Steeplechase Association’s spring season kicks off Saturday with the 52nd annual Aiken Spring Steeplechase, an always-sold-out meet that welcomes spring and the return of jump racing.
First post time is 1 p.m. at the Aiken Horse Park in Aiken, S.C. The six-race program will feature a highly competitive edition of the Budweiser Imperial Cup, a $20,000 handicap for horses with NSA ratings of 110 or lower.
Carrying the 158-pound highweight for the two-mile race over National Fences is KMSN Stable’s Able Archer, trained by Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard and ridden by 2016 champion jockey Kieran Norris.
Able Archer opened last year’s campaign with a win in a Middleburg Spring maiden claiming hurdle and closed the year with second-place finishes in handicaps at Virginia Fall and the Montpelier Hunt Races.
Sheppard also will saddle his Stalled, a seven-year-old mare who will be ridden by apprentice jockey Keri Brion. In her only 2017 start, Stalled was pulled up in a Montpelier allowance hurdle. Stalled carries the race’s bottom weight, 138 pounds, with Brion’s apprentice allowance.
Willie McCarthy, sidelined by an injury last summer and fall, returns to the saddle aboard Indy’s Legacy for owner Thistledown Farm and trainer Desmond Fogarty. A seven-year-old by A.P. Indy, Indy’s Legacy won a High Hope handicap last May and was second in an Aiken Fall handicap.
Indy’s Legacy will carry 156 pounds, as will Irv Naylor’s Borderlinedecision, who is trained by Kathy Neilson. A winner in England last September, he fell in an Aiken Fall handicap, his only U.S. start. Gerard Galligan has the mount.
Arch Kingsley Jr. will saddle Price-Richardson Stable’s Indigo Heart, who closed out the 2017 season with a victory in a Virginia Fall maiden claiming hurdle and a second in a Charleston allowance hurdle. Michael Mitchell will ride.
Trainer Richard Valentine will saddle his Life Said, who closed out his 2017 season with a score in an Aiken Fall maiden claiming hurdle. Shane Crimin will be in the saddle.
Here is the field for the $20,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup in post-position order. The horses’ NSA ratings are in parentheses at the end of their profiles.
Borderlinedecision (Ire). 2012 b. g., King’s Theatre—Dani California, by Beat All. Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Kathy Neilson. Jockey: Gerard Galligan. Breeder: Kevin McCarthy (Ire). 2017 NSA record: 1-0-0-0, $0. In only U.S. start, fell in Aiken Fall handicap. Won an Uttoxeter handicap, his second career win, before being imported. (108)
Life Said. 2011 b. g., Successful Appeal—Elizaveta, by Quiet American. Owner-Trainer: Richard Valentine. Jockey: Shane Crimin. Breeder: George Strawbridge Jr. (Pa.) 2017 record: 5-1-1-2, $17,100. Won 2017 maiden claimer at Aiken Fall after third at Foxfield Fall. (105)
Indigo Heart. 2010 b. g., Heart of the Storm—Ink Marq, by Marquetry. Owner: Price-Richardson Stable. Trainer: Arch Kingsley Jr. Jockey: Michael Mitchell. Breeder: Finishline Farms, a Division of Hanover Meadows (Ky.). 2017 NSA record: 5-1-2-0, $15,300. Won a Virginia Fall maiden claimer and finished second in a Charleston allowance hurdle. (107)
Able Archer. 2012 dk. b. or br. g., Eskendereya—Fareena, by Point Given. Owner: KMSN Stable. Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. Jockey: Kieran Norris. Breeder: Spirit Lake Enterprises (Pa.) 2017 NSA record: 5-1-2-0, $19,200. 2016 NSA record: 2-0-0-0, $1,500. Finished second in a 2017 Montpelier handicap and Virginia Fall’s Bon Nouvel Handicap. Won a 2017 Middleburg Spring maiden claimer and then fell at fifth fence in Radnor ratings handicap. (110)
Say No Maux. 2013 b. g., A. P. Warrior—Maux Money, by Leroidesanimaux (Brz). Owner: Wendy Hendriks. Trainer: Ricky Hendriks. Jockey: Ross Geraghty. Breeder: Palm Beach Racing Partnership (Fla.). 2017 NSA record: 3-1-0-1, $11,250. Won 2017 Charleston Fall maiden claimer after third in Aiken Fall maiden claimer. Was fourth in maiden-claiming debut over fences at Foxfield Fall. (105)
Indy’s Legacy. 2011 b. g., A.P. Indy—Coral Sea, by Rubiano. Owner: Thistledown Farm. Trainer: Desmond Fogarty. Jockey: Willie McCarthy. Breeders: Farish, Hudson, and Kilroy (Ky.) 2017 record: 6-2-1-1, $29,150. 2016 record: 4-0-0-0, $2,100. Won 2017 Aiken Spring maiden claiming hurdle and also High Hope handicap. Finished third in 2017 Shawan Downs handicap hurdle, then was second in Aiken Fall handicap and fifth at Montpelier. (108)
Show King. 2011 b. g., Fantasticat—Straight Blues, by Straight Man. Owner: Shannon Hill Farm. Trainer: Jimmy Day. Jockey: Sean McDermott. Breeder: Eric J. Meyer (N.Y.) 2017 record: 8-1-0-1, $19,940. Won 2017 Foxfield Fall maiden claiming hurdle and was third in Aiken Fall handicap. (104)
Stalled. 2011 dk. b. or br. m., Jump Start—Push My Luck, by Press Card. Owner: Bill Pape. Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. Jockey: Keri Brion. Breeders: Bill Pape and Jonathan Sheppard (Pa.). 2017 record: 1-10-0-0, $0. 2016 NSA record: 1-0-0-0, $1,600. Made only one start in 2017 and was pulled up in Montpelier allowance hurdle. In only 2016 start over fences, finished fifth in Suffolk Downs ratings handicap. Broke through for an 18 3/4-length victory in a 2015 Carolina Cup maiden hurdle for fillies and mares, then finished third in a Queen’s Cup ratings hurdle. (95)