Trainer Ricky Hendriks launched the National Steeplechase Association’s spring season by sweeping both divisions of Aiken Spring’s $25,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup and a training flat race on Saturday.
Both winners of the Budweiser Imperial Cup divisions, Any Given Royal in the first two-mile heat for maidens and Surprising Soul in the second, are owned by the trainer’s mother, Wendy Hendriks. Ross Geraghty rode those winners and Rosbrian Farm’s Winter House, who took the 1 1/4-mile training flat race for Hendriks.
Surprising Soul, a five-year-old Perfect Soul gelding, was maintained close to the early pace of Jesse O and took command on the second circuit of the Aiken, S.C., course. After the second-to-last fence, Surprising Soul opened five lengths on his pursuers, and Geraghty eased him over the last obstacle before they galloped to the finish line and a 23 1/4-length victory.
Jesse O took held on for second, and Extensible finished third. Surprising Soul ran the two-mile distance in 3:42.80 on firm turf.
In the first division, Geraghty sent Any Given Royal to the front at the start and kicked clear after the last fence to a 3 1/2-length victory. Hudson River Farms’ Aflutter finished second, and Magalen O. Bryant’s Last Farewell was third. An eight-year-old Any Given Saturday gelding, Any Given Royal ran the distance in 3:47.60.
Winter House, a Cape Cross gelding selected by Rosbrian owner George Mahoney Jr. at the Goffs UK Doncaster sale in England last summer, moved between horses late under Geraghty to win by a half-length. Burning Approval took second, and Maximum Horsepower was third.
Jack Doyle, who had led the 2016 rider standings by wins and earnings before a crushing fall at Belmont Park in September, returned to the races in good form and drove Check Mark Stables’ Mr. Lickety to victory in the $20,000 ratings handicap for trainer Richard Valentine. Longing to Travel finished second, and Devil’s Wrangler was third.
Indy’s Legacy, owned by Thistledown Farm and trained by Desmond Fogarty, made a sharp move late in the $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle and sprinted clear after the final fence to secure a 9 1/2-length win under Willie McCarthy. Owner-trainer Dave Washer’s Change Maker finished second, and owner-trainer John E. Teas Jr.’s A Zoo Society finished third.
Under partly sunny skies with temperatures in the high 70s, Aiken’s 51st annual spring meet kicked off with a mile training flat race, and Kip Elser’s Full of Joy finished full of joy under apprentice Keith Dalton to claim the win by three-quarters of a length. Racing Hall of Fame member Janet Elliot trains Full of Joy, a three-year-old Kitten’s Joy filly.