With a powerful burst on the final run down Ford Conger Field’s backstretch, Stonelea Stables’ Balance the Budget seized the lead in the $50,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3), opened a long advantage in the stretch, and roared home to a 21-length victory in the featured race of the 49th annual Aiken Spring Steeplechase on Saturday. Dogwood Stable’s Street Fight finished second, 20 1/2 lengths clear of Absolum.
Under sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-70s, the Aiken Spring Steeplechase opened the 2015 National Steeplechase Association racing season.
Trained by Julie Gomena and ridden by Kieran Norris, Balance the Budget ran the Budweiser Imperial Cup’s two miles in 3:50.40 on firm turf.
Why Not Racing’s Class Bopper set the early pace under Richard Boucher, with Street Fight shadowing him in second and Balance the Budget placed on the outside in third. They held that position until Balance the Budget was willing to wait no longer, and he seized the lead at the second to last fence, roughly three-eighths of a mile from the finish line.
Gomena said Norris felt he had no choice but to let Balance the Budget make his move. It indeed was a powerful burst, and Balance the Budget opened a yawning lead on the final turn and jumped the last fence with no challenge in sight.
Virginia-based Gomena trains over the winter at Mike Freeman’s farm in Aiken, and Balance the Budget is no stranger to Ford Conger Field. After winning his maiden victory over hurdles last September at Shawan Downs, the six-year-old Bellamy Road gelding finished third in Aiken Fall’s $25,000 Budweiser Holiday Cup over the course in October.
Gomena said she had no strong indication from Balance the Budget that he was sitting on a big race. “You have to undertrain him,” she said. “He’s one of those horses who run best when they’re undertrained.” She said she and the owner, Stonelea’s Nina Bonnie, will have to confer on Balance the Budget’s next race. A prominent Kentucky horseman and wife of Kentucky Racing Commission member Ned Bonnie, Nina Bonnie is Gomena’s mother-in-law.
Norris collected his second straight Budweiser Imperial Cup. He won last year with Pleasant Woodman, with Street Fight finishing second.
Ross Geraghty, who did not have a mount in the Budweiser Imperial Cup, jumped to the top of the jockey standings with two wins: Jennifer Pitts’ Bau Bai Gold in the Charles S. Bird optional allowance hurdle and Armata Stables’ Heroic Royal in the James W. Maloney maiden hurdle.