The 53rd annual Aiken Spring Steeplechase welcomes spring to the Carolinas and kicks off the 2019 National Steeplechase Association racing season on Saturday with a six-race program highlighted by a competitive edition of the $30,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup.
First post time is 1 p.m. at the Aiken Horse Park for the popular traditional opener for the steeplechase season.
The two-mile ratings handicap attracted a field of eight, with Irv Naylor’s Bobabout and Donna T. Rogers’ Dapper Dan sharing the 158-pound highweight by virtue of their 119 ratings by the NSA’s three-member ratings committee. The Budweiser Imperial Cup is open to horses with ratings of 120 or lower.
Irish-bred Bobabout finished second in last spring’s National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3) on a soft Radnor Hunt course. He came back in a division of Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle and was pulled up. Trained by Cyril Murphy, the six-year-old Bobabout will be ridden by Graham Watters.
Trainer Neil Morris named Michael Mitchell to ride Dapper Dan, who was pulled up in his two starts last year, a High Hope Steeplechase ratings handicap on a soft Kentucky Horse Park course in September and a Far Hills ratings handicap on Oct. 20. The seven-year-old won a Parx Racing ratings handicap in July 2017.
Straylight Racing’s L’Aigle Royal, rated at 118, will have owner Alex Leventhal in the saddle with a five-pound apprentice allowance. Trained by Billy Santoro, the German-bred finished third in a Fair Hill allowance hurdle last May and fell in a High Hope ratings handicap.
Sharing 116 ratings and 155-pound weight assignments are Oakwood Stable’s Kensington Court and Apple Equipment’s Oskar Denarius. Julie Gomena-trained Kensington Court most recently finished third in the Steeplechase at Callaway’s Aflac Supreme Hurdle on Nov. 4 and will be ridden by Kieran Norris.
Thomas Garner will be aboard Oskar Denarius for trainer Richard Valentine. The Irish-bred was third in the featured $30,000 ratings handicap at the season-closing Steeplechase at Charleston on Nov. 11. Valentine also will saddle Bill Pape’s Giza, who concluded his 2018 season with a fourth in a Callaway allowance hurdle. Sean McDermott will ride the seven-year-old.
Trainer Ricky Hendriks, who barely missed the 2018 trainer titles by wins and earnings, will saddle Rosbrian Farm’s Barhanpour and Morning Star Farm’s Indigo Heart in the Budweiser Imperial Cup.
Claimed by Rosbrian from a Foxfield Fall maiden claiming victory, Barhanpour won an Aiken Fall claiming hurdle and was fourth in the Charleston ratings handicap. Ross Geraghty will ride. Indigo Heart won a Shawan Downs ratings handicap and was pulled up in Far Hills’ ratings handicap.
Here is the field for the $30,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup in post-position order. The horses’ National Steeplechase Association ratings are in parentheses at the end of the their profiles.
Oskar Denarius (Ire). 2011 b. g., Authorized (Ire)—Elizabethan Age, by King’s Best. Owner: Apple Equipment LLC. Trainer: Richard Valentine. Jockey: Thomas Garner. Breeder: River Downs Stud (Ire). 2018 NSA record: 2-0-0-1, $3,0000. Eased in his first U.S. start, 2018 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1). Finished third in Charleston ratings handicap. Unplaced in Uttoxeter hurdle before export. Had three straight wins in spring 2018 at Southwell, Worcester, and Newton Abbot. (116)
Barhanpour (Fr). 2013 dk. b. or br. g., Raven’s Pass—Balankiya (Ire), by Darshaan (GB). Owner: Rosbrian Farm. Trainer: Ricky Hendriks. Jockey: Ross Geraghty. Breeder: The Aga Khan’s Stud (Fr). 2018 NSA record: 7-2-0-0, $13,500. Claimed from victory in 2018 Foxfield Fall maiden claiming hurdle and then won Aiken Fall claimer before fourth in Charleston ratings handicap. (111).
Kensington Court. 2012 dk. b. or br. g., Giant’s Causeway—Backseat Driver, by El Corredor. Owner: Oakwood Stable. Trainer: Julie Gomena. Jockey: Kieran Norris. Breeder: Paul Pompa Jr. (Ky.) 2018 record: No starts. 2017 record: 3-0-0-1, $9,750. Coming back after missing 2018 season. Finished third in 2017 Aflac Supreme Hurdle at the Steeplechase at Callaway after unplaced finishes in Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle and Belmont Park’s William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes. (116)
Giza. 2012 b. g., Eskendereya—Make Believe, by Crowd Pleaser. Owner: Bill Pape. Trainer: Richard Valentine. Jockey: Sean McDermott. Breeders: Bill and Anne Pape. 2018 record: 3-0-0-1, $4,000. 2017 record: 4-1-1-1, $24,300. Finished third in 2018 Middleburg Spring allowance hurdle before fourth-place finishes in similar allowance races at Virginia Fall and the Steeplechase at Callaway. Won maiden hurdle at 2017 Foxfield Spring and then ran second in key Radnor allowance. Struck fence in Saratoga handicap hurdle and was pulled up. (113)
L’Aigle Royal (Ger). 2011 dk. b. or b. g., Sholokhov—Laren, by Monsun (Ger). Owner: Straylight Racing. Trainer: William B. Santoro. Jockey: Alexander Leventhal. Breeder: Westminster Race Horses (Ger). 2018 record: 3-0-0-1, $2,700. 2017 NSA record: 3-1-0-1, $10,300. Finished distant third in 2018 Fair Hill allowance hurdle after losing rider in Foxfield Spring optional claiming hurdle. Fell in High Hope ratings handicap. Won 2017 Charleston allowance hurdle after fifth at International Gold Cup and distant third in Foxfield optional allowance hurdle. (118)
Dapper Dan. 2012 b. g., Pleasantly Perfect—Wardrobe, by War Chant. Owner: Donna T. Rogers. Trainer: Neil R. Morris. Jockey: Michael Mitchell. Breeders: Mr. and Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone (Va.). 2018 record: 2-0-0-0, $0. 2017 record: 3-2-0-1, $55,500. 2016 NSA record: 2-0-0-1, $9,900. Pulled up in both 2018 starts, ratings handicap at High Hope and Far Hills. Won 2017 Parx ratings handicap and Virginia Gold Cup maiden hurdle, and was third in Radnor allowance hurdle. (119)
Bobabout (Ire). 2013 b. g., Big Bad Bob—Chaperoned (Ire), by High Chaparral (Ire). Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Cyril Murphy. Jockey: Graham Watters. Breeder: John Harrington (Ire). 2018 record: 2-0-1-0, $9,000. 2017 NSA 1-0-0-0, $0. Finished second in 2018 National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3), then was pulled up in Foxbrook Champion Hurdle division. In first U.S. start, finished seventh in Saratoga’s 2017 Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes. Won Punchestown handicap in April 2017 for breeder-trainer and then had two seconds before sixth at Tipperary in late June. (119)
Indigo Heart. 2010 b. g., Heart of the Storm—Ink Marq, by Marquetry. Owner: Morningstar Farm. Trainer: Ricky Hendriks. Jockey: Open. Breeder: Finishline Farms, a Division of Hanover Meadows (Ky.). 2018 NSA record: 5-1-1-0, $12,600. 2017 NSA record: 5-1-2-0, $15,300. Broke through for allowance victory at 2018 Shawan Downs meet. Began 2018 with second in Aiken Spring’s Budweiser Imperial Cup ratings handicap and was pulled up in a Queen’s Cup maiden timber and a Willowdale optional allowance hurdle. Won a 2017 Virginia Fall maiden claimer and finished second in a Charleston allowance hurdle. (114)