Oakwood Stable’s Country Cousin surged approaching the final fence of the $45,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup and edged clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths on Saturday, March 26, at the Aiken Spring Steeplechase. Irvin S. Naylor’s Decoy Daddy finished second in the featured race on the National Steeplechase Association’s 2011 opening day in Aiken, S.C.
Mary Ann Houghland’s Torino Luge, coming back from a more than two-year layoff, set the early pace in the two-mile Imperial Cup over National Fences, but the Australian-bred began to tire approaching the final fence. Decoy Daddy, ridden by Darren Nagle, went to the front but could not turn back Country Cousin, who had won the $50,000 National Hunt Cup at the Radnor Hunt Races near Philadelphia last May.
William Pape’s Mixed Up, winless since locking up an Eclipse Award with a victory in the 2009 Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup, finished third. Gregory D. Hawkins’ Red Letter Day finished fourth in the field of five. Trained by Julie Gomena for Nicole Perry’s Oakwood Stable, Country Cousin collected the $27,000 winner’s share after running the distance in 3:50.40 on yielding turf.
In the afternoon’s secondary feature, the $25,000 Charlie S. Bird III allowance hurdle, Jonathan Sheppard’s One Giant Step took the next step of his career by withstanding a bump at the last fence and drawing clear to a 2 3/4-length victory under Danielle Hodsdon.
Robbie Walsh, rider of second-place finisher Demonstrative, claimed foul over the bump, but Aiken’s stewards disallowed the claim. Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Demonstrative was the NSA’s champion three-year-old in 2010. One Giant Step, trained by his owner, ran the two-mile distance in 3:55.60.
Brian Crowley took the early lead in the jockey standings with two victories, aboard Debra Kachel’s Class Mark in the $15,000 James W. Maloney maiden hurdle and Christ Is King Stable’s Dispute This in the $10,000 Ford D. Conger claiming hurdle. Both winners were trained by Ricky Hendriks.