Reigning Eclipse Award champion Slip Away and the two immediate past winners will meet up on Saturday, May 14, in a star-packed running of the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1), featured stakes race of the 70th annual Iroquois Steeplechase at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park.
In another busy weekend of National Steeplechase Association-sanctioned racing, Perry Bolton’s Scuba Steve will go for back-to-back victories in the $15,000 Willowdale Steeplechase, featured race of the 19th annual Willowdale race meet in Kennett Square, Pa., on Sunday, May 15.
The seven-race Iroquois program also will feature the $75,000 Marcellus Frost (Gr. 2), the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley for fillies and mares, and the $50,000 Mason Houghland Memorial over timber. The Calvin Houghland Iroquois, which attracted a field of nine, is the richest race on the National Steeplechase Association’s spring schedule, and the afternoon’s program offers total purses of $395,000.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Slip Away will be making his first start over fences since picking up the Eclipse Award as 2010 champion steeplechase horse in January. Trained by Tom Voss, the eight-year-old Skip Away gelding tuned up for the three-mile Calvin Houghland Iroquois with a second-place finish in a flat race at the Queen’s Cup Steeplechase near Charlotte, N.C., on April 30. Paddy Young, last year’s champion jockey and current leader in the 2011 standings.
Slip Away, who sewed up his title with a victory in the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) on Nov. 13, will be attempting to turn the tables on Irvin S. Naylor’s Tax Ruling, who closed past Slip Away to win last year’s Calvin Houghland Iroquois. Now trained by Brianne Slater, Tax Ruling will be seeking his first victory since his Iroquois score. Regular jockey Darren Nagle will be in the saddle.
Also coming back for a shot at a second Iroquois victory is Mary Ann Houghland’s Pierrot Lunaire, stylish winner of the 2009 race for the late Calvin Houghland. Bruce Miller trains Pierrot Lunaire, who did not race in 2010 and returned with a third-place finish in the $50,000 Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) at the Middleburg Spring Races on April 23. Xavier Aizpuru will ride.
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard entered two contenders for the Calvin Houghland Iroquois trophy, Bill Pape’s Sermon of Love and Mary Ann Houghland’s Nationbuilder. Both will be making their first jump starts of the 2011 season.
Sermon of Love, who won the New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1) and Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes at Saratoga Race Course last summer, will be ridden by Brian Crowley, and Danielle Hodsdon has the mount on Nationbuilder, winner of the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills in October.
Voss, a leading Maryland-based flat and steeplechase trainer, also entered Dictina’s Boy, who finished second in the Temple Gwathmey. Owned by Riverdee Stable, the With Approval gelding will be ridden by Matt McCarron.
Making his first riding appearance in his home area will be Gustav Dahl, a 16-year-old Franklin resident who was named on two horses for the Iroquois meet. Trainer Doug Fout named him to ride Virginia Lazenby’s Pleasant Woodman in the $10,000 Guilford Dudley Jr. Memorial, a 1 1/2-mile flat race, and Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard tapped him to ride Bill Pape’s Duggan in the $35,000 Bright Hour Amateur Hurdle.
Dahl, who began riding in steeplechase races three months after his 16th birthday, rode his first winner over fences on May 7 when he scored a 5 1/4-length victory aboard owner-trainer Karen Gray’s Cuse in a $25,000 starter allowance. He also finished second in the $25,000 Steeplethon aboard Gray’s Meckenburg. From 13 mounts in 2011, Dahl has one win, one second, and three third-place finishes, with total purse earnings of $26,750.
Scuba Steve seeks Willowdale repeat
The 3 1/2-mile Willowdale Steeplechase over the steeplechase course attracted seven entries and will be the fourth of seven races on the program. First post time is 1:30 p.m.
The race shapes up as a battle between sisters. Scuba Steve is trained by Kathy N. McKenna, and principal rival South Monarch is trained by Sanna N. Hendriks. They are the daughters of veteran Chester County horseman Paddy Neilson.
Scuba Steve will be ridden by Mark Beecher, who was aboard him for a second-place finish in the Alfred M. Hunt over a similar course at the Middleburg Spring Races in Virginia on April 23.
Coming back on a week’s rest is Morning Star Stables’ South Monarch, who finished second in the Winterthur Bowl over timber fences at the Winterthur Point-to-Point Races in Delaware on May 8. Hendriks, the owner of Morning Star Stables, named former champion jockey Chip Miller to ride. Winner of the 2010 My Lady’s Manor in Maryland, South Monarch finished third in that race this year.
William Meister has a pair of entrant for the Willowdale Steeplechase. NoGo Stable’s Yin Yang won his maiden victory in the John Rush Streett at the My Lady’s Manor meet on April 16 and will be ridden by Darren Nagle, last year’s champion amateur jockey. Meister also will saddle Irvin S. Naylor’s Gorgeous Charger, who fell early in the Maryland Hunt Cup on April 30. James Stierhoff was named to ride the eight-year-old Awad gelding.