Gregory Hawkins’ Alajmal, who concluded the 2013 steeplechase season with a victory in the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1), has been assigned the 156-pound highweight for the $50,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3), the featured hurdle race of the 48th annual Aiken Spring Steeplechase on Saturday, March 22.
The Aiken Spring Steeplechase at Ford Conger Field in Aiken, S.C., launches the 2014 National Steeplechase Association season and heralds the arrival of spring in the Carolinas. First post time is 1 p.m. for the six-race program.
The 2012 novice champion, Alajmal tops a field of five nominees for the two-mile Budweiser Imperial Cup, which kicks off the NSA’s schedule of graded stakes races. Trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Janet Elliot, Alajmal began and ended his 2013 season at Springdale Course in Camden, S.C., where he won the Carolina Cup for novices in March and then took the Colonial Cup on Nov. 23.
Troubled by a mysterious ailment over the summer, the First Samurai gelding bounced back in the fall and made a powerful run under Xavier Aizpuru to win the Colonial Cup by 3 1/2 lengths over an all-star field.
Also nominated to the Budweiser Imperial Cup were Call Me Sonny, Pleasant Woodman, Dugan, and Street Fight. Post positions will be drawn on Tuesday, March 18.
Call Me Sonny, owned by South Carolina horseman Dale Thiel, will carry 146 pounds in the handicap of NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr. Trained by Ricky Hendriks, Call Me Sonny has competed successfully in the claiming ranks and won last year’s Valentine Memorial, a starter handicap hurdle at the Fair Hill Races in Maryland. He also won an optional claimer at the Virginia Fall Races.
Finishing second in the Virginia race was Pleasant Woodman, who races for Virginia B. Lazenby and Farm d’Allie Racing Stables. The Woodman gelding will carry 144 pounds in the Budweiser Imperial Cup. Trained in Virginia by Doug Fout, Pleasant Woodman loves the Aiken course, where he is undefeated in two starts. He easily won Aiken Spring’s James W. Maloney maiden hurdle and returned in the fall to score a front-running victory in the Budweiser Holiday Cup, an optional allowance hurdle.
Bill Pape’s veteran Dugan, who is fourth in the weights at 142 pounds, also has an affinity for Aiken. Trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard, Dugan has won three of his six starts at Ford Conger Field. He most recently won a claiming hurdle at the 2011 Aiken Fall meet. Last spring, the Forest Wildcat gelding finished second in the Charles S. Bird Jr., an optional claiming hurdle.
Dogwood Stable’s Street Fight won his maiden start over fences at the 2013 Aiken Fall meet. Trained by Arch Kingsley Jr., the five-year-old Street Sense gelding will carry 140 pounds.