Multiple stakes winner Country Cousin heads a talented field for the $50,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3), the National Steeplechase Association’s first graded stakes race of 2013, at the 47th annual Aiken Spring Steeplechase on Saturday, March 23. First post time is 1 p.m. for the six-race program at Ford Conger Field.
Owned by Nicole H. Perry’s Oakwood Stable and trained by Julie Gomena, Country Cousin will be seeking a repeat victory in the two-mile race over National Fences. He won the Budweiser Imperial Cup in 2011, and among his opponents will be Irvin S. Naylor’s Pullyourfinderout, winner of Aiken Spring’s feature race last year.
Country Cousin had a notable 2011 season. In addition to his Budweiser Imperial Cup score, he won Colonial Downs’ David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 3). Last year, he had three third-place finishes in graded steeplechase stakes before finishing out of the money in the $100,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) at Saratoga Race Course. Roddy Mackenzie will ride.
Pullyourfingerout, an Irish-bred import, easily won last year’s Budweiser Imperial Cup, which was limited to novices, in his only start of the season. Now trained by Brianne Slater, the six-year-old will be ridden by Ross Geraghty, the 2012 champion jockey by wins and earnings.
Trainer Arch Kingsley Jr. called his own number to ride Sue Sensor’s Sunshine Numbers in the Budweiser Imperial Cup. A dangerous front-runner, Sunshine Numbers won the 2011 Carolina Cup (Gr. 3) and returned to the races last fall to win the Colonial Cup’s Hobkirk Hill starter allowance after setting all the pace.
Owner-trainer Karen Gray nominated hard-knocking Cuse, who is in search of his first stakes victory. One of his two 2012 victories included the Sandhills Cup allowance hurdle at the Stoneybrook Steeplechase in Raeford, N.C., last spring. Regular jockey Gus Dahl has the assignment.
Also looking for his first stakes victory is Clorevia Farm’s Extraextraordinary, who had two victories last season, including a $25,000 starter allowance at the International Gold Cup in Virginia. Trainer Doug Fout named Jeff Murphy to ride.
Also on the Aiken Spring program is the $25,000 Celebrate Aiken optional allowance. Entered for the tough two-mile race was Kinross Farm’s More Tea Vicar, last year’s three-year-old champion. Bernie Dalton will ride.