A field of promising newcomers to steeplechase racing will line up Thursday, July 29, for the $70,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. The 2 1/16-mile race over National Fences, carded as the first race on the Saratoga program, memorializes the two-time champion jockey who died in a tragic non-racing accident in 2000.
Three prospective starters–Oakwood Stable’s Virginia Minstrel, Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Mabou and Jonathan Sheppard’s Italian Wedding–carry unbeaten 2010 records into the Kiser.
Virginia Minstrel, who will start on the inside with jockey Matt McCarron, began the season with a narrow victory in a maiden special weight at the Carolina Cup Races in Camden, S.C., on March 27. The six-year-old Pleasant Tap gelding followed up with a 6 1/4-length score in the $25,000 Strawberry Hill Classic at Colonial Downs on May 15. Trainer Julie Gomena returned Virginia Minstrel to the Virginia track for a 3 3/4-length victory in a starter allowance on the flat on July 11.
Italian Wedding won his maiden victory at the year’s first race meet, the Aiken Spring Races in Aiken, S.C., on March 20, and then took the $20,000 Sandhills Cup at the Stoneybrook Races in Raeford, N.C., on April 3. Racing Hall of Fame trainer Sheppard, who also bred the five-year-old Alphabet Soup gelding, named Willie Dowling to ride.
Sheppard also will saddle Mary Ann Houghland’s Nationbuilder, winner of the Queen’s Cup MPC Chase in suburban Charlotte, N.C., on April 24. The six-year-old Came Home gelding, who fell in the National Hunt Cup at the Radnor Hunt Races on May 15, will be ridden by Danielle Hodsdon. Also entering from Sheppard’s barn is Bill Pape’s Sermon of Love, who finished second to Spy in the Sky in last year’s New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga.
Mabou left the Saratoga course in the 2009 edition of the Kiser and has not been beaten since that race. Trained by Tom Voss, the seven-year-old Dynaformer gelding won two claiming races to close out last season and stepped up to win the $30,000 Vita C. Thompson Memorial allowance race at the Radnor meet in Malvern, Pa. Leading rider Paddy Young will be in the saddle.
Voss also will send out Mark Dodson’s Moon Dolly, the only mare in the Kiser and most recently fourth in the Valentine Memorial at the Fair Hill Races in Maryland on May 29, and Perry Bolton’s Arch Hero, a maiden winner at Callaway Gardens in Georgia last fall.
After a hiccup in a Philadelphia Park allowance steeplechase on June 4, Move Up Stable’s Quiet Approval moved up a notch with an eight-length victory in an allowance race on the Saratoga Open House program on July 18. Trained by Kathy N. McKenna, the four-year-old Quiet American gelding will be ridden by Jeff Murphy.
Completing the field of nine is owner-trainer Michele Sanger’s Birthday Beau, who will be ridden by Ross Geraghty. The five-year-old Silic gelding streaked to a nine-length victory in an Aiken allowance race but tired after setting the pace in the Marcellus Frost Stakes at Nashville, Tenn., on May 8 and was pulled up.