Steeplechase racing will be in the spotlight when Colonial Downs kicks off its 2013 Thoroughbred racing season on Saturday, and the twilight program’s three jump races will be highlighted by the $50,000 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 3). First post time is 6 p.m. at the New Kent, Va., track.
The Ferguson, named for a longtime Virginia steeplechase owner and horseman, attracted a large and highly talented field. Among them are Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Slip Away, the 2010 Eclipse Award winner, and leading owner Irv Naylor’s Decoy Daddy, a two-time Grade 3 winner already this year. Also entered for the 2 1/4-mile Ferguson were last year’s champion female competitor, Cat Feathers, and talented novice Mr. Hot Stuff.
Decoy Daddy will carry the Ferguson’s highweight at 158 pounds. Trained by Brianne Slater, the 11-year-old Irish-bred has had a notable season with jockey Carol-Ann Sloan. After a third-place finish in the Sandhills Cup allowance hurdle in early April, Decoy Daddy scored victories in the Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) at the Middleburg Spring Races on April 20 and Radnor’s National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3) on May 18. Sloan again will be in the saddle.
Slater also will saddle Naylor’s Black Quartz, a French-bred who finished second in the Marcellus Frost Stakes for novices—horses in their first seasons of competition over fences—at Nashville’s Iroquois Steeplechase on May 11 after winning the Queen’s Cup MPC ‘Chase for novices near Charlotte, N.C., on April 27. Three-time champion steeplechase jockey Paddy Young will ride.
Slip Away, who finished second in the Sandhills Cup at the Stoneybrook Steeplechase on April 6, will carry the second highweight at 152 pounds. The 10-year-old Skip Away gelding is looking to regain his championship form after finishing fourth in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) at Nashville. Trainer Tom Voss named Xavier Aizpuru to ride. Voss also entered Merriefield Farm’s Ballet Boy, who was pulled up in the National Hunt Cup. Willie McCarthy has the mount.
Virginia-based trainer Jimmy Day will saddle Randleston Farm’s Spy in the Sky, upset winner of last summer’s A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) at Saratoga Race Course. He opened his 2013 campaign with a seventh-place finish behind Decoy Daddy in the National Hunt Cup. Danielle Hodsdon will ride Spy in the Sky, who carries 150 pounds in the handicap of National Steeplechase Association Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr.
Another Virginia-based horseman, Richard Valentine, will send out Augustin Stables’ Rainiero, who has been knocking at the door of a graded-stakes victory. Fourth in the Temple Gwathmey, the 11-year-old Chilean-bred most recently won a starter allowance at Iroquois on May 11. Owned by American Steeplechasing’s all-time leading stable, Rainiero will carry 146 pounds and will be ridden by Robbie Walsh.
Jack Fisher, the reigning champion trainer, nominated Gil Johnston’s Mr. Hot Stuff, who turned up the heat in the novice division with his 2 1/2-length victory in the Marcellus Frost. Mr. Hot Stuff finished third in the 2006 Santa Anita Derby (Gr. 1) was unplaced in that year’s Kentucky Derby (Gr. 1), and finished fifth in the Belmont Stakes (Gr. 1). Champion jockey Ross Geraghty takes over the mount.
Owner-trainer Kate Dalton’s Cat Feathers would be making her first hurdles start of the year. She claimed the 2012 Life’s Illusion Filly and Mare Championship with an upset score in Saratoga Race Course’s Mrs. Ogden Phipps Stakes and a good second in Saratoga’s Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords Jr. Stakes last August. She was unplaced in an Iroquois flat race to open her 2013 campaign. Bernie Dalton will ride.