The National Steeplechase Association kicks off its 2020 season on Saturday, March 21, and the spring schedule offers high-quality racing over hurdles and timber fences, a new race in Pennsylvania, the return of Tryon Block House, and a Fair Hill meet at Laurel Park in Maryland.
Topping the stakes schedule is the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1), the signature race of the 79th annual Iroquois Steeplechase on Saturday, May 9. Iroquois offers the highest purses of the spring season, $460,000, and the popular Nashville meet also will feature the $100,000 Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle for novices and the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley for fillies and mares.
The spring’s second-highest purses, $315,000, will be paid at the 95th annual Virginia Gold Cup in The Plains on Saturday, May 2. In addition to the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup over timber, the $75,000 David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) will be featured at Great Meadow Race Course.
Celebrating its centennial will be the Middleburg Spring Races, which will offer the first graded stakes of the year, the Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 2), on Saturday, April 18. The Temple Gwathmey purse was increased by $25,000 to $100,000 to mark the 100th anniversary.
Also marking an important anniversary, its 25th, will be the Queen’s Cup Steeplechase in suburban Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday, April 25. Its feature race will be the $75,000 Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase for novices.
Two other meets will be run on that Saturday. The 124th running of the $100,000 Maryland Hunt Cup will test timber horses over its four-mile distance. Also on the schedule that afternoon is the Foxfield Spring Races in Charlottesville, Va., where the feature race will be the Daniel Van Clief Memorial, a ratings handicap hurdle.
Two ratings handicap hurdles will be the feature races of the year’s first two meets. Aiken Spring launches the spring schedule on Saturday, March 21, and its marquee race will be the $30,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup at the Aiken Horse Park in South Carolina.
The action moves to Camden, S.C., and the Springdale Course on Saturday, March 28, for the 88th annual Carolina Cup. Its featured race will be the $50,000 Carolina Cup, a Sport of Kings ratings handicap hurdle.
New to the schedule will be the $10,000 Louis C. Neilson III amateur apprentice timber race as part of the Cheshire Point-to-Point Races in Unionville, Pa., on Sunday, March 29. The new race will be fully sanctioned and conducted under all NSA rules.
Returning to the schedule will be the Tryon Block House Races at the Green Creek Race Course in Columbus, N.C., on Saturday, April 11. Due to course issues, the Tryon races were first postponed and then canceled last year. Its feature will be the $35,000 Block House, an allowance hurdle for horses who have not won two races over fences.
The Maryland timber triple crown begins on April 11 with the $50,000 My Lady’s Manor. The storied series continues with the $50,000 Grand National on April 18, followed by the Maryland Hunt Cup the following Saturday.
Timber racing also will be in the spotlight in three other spring meets. The Winterthur Races will feature the $42,000 Winterthur Bowl on Sunday, May 3. The Willowdale Steeplechase in Kennett Square, Pa., will be run a day earlier than usual, on Saturday, May 9, and will feature the $35,000 Buttonwood-Sycamore Farm Willowdale Steeplechase for amateur jockeys.
The Radnor Hunt Races in Malvern, Pa., on Saturday, May 16, will highlight the $35,000 Radnor Hunt Cup over timber.
The historic Fair Hill Race Course in northern Maryland is undergoing a $20-million remodeling that includes a new turf course. The Fair Hill meet will move to the Baltimore-Washington metroplex on Saturday, May 23, at Laurel Park. The day’s feature will be the $40,000 Valentine Memorial, a handicap hurdle.