The 51st annual High Hope Steeplechase kicks off the National Steeplechase Association’s fall season on Sunday with full fields for its six races at Lexington’s Kentucky Horse Park, two $25,000 divisions of the featured Oxmoor Steeplechase ratings handicap, and the beginning of high-definition video coverage for every NSA race meet.
First post time is 1 p.m. for the High Hope Steeplechase, which takes its new place at the start of the fall championship season after formerly racing in the spring.
The Oxmoor Steeplechase, a 2 3/8-mile handicap for horses with NSA ratings 120 or lower, drew a total of 17 entries and was split into two divisions.
Heading the first division is Team Ollie’s Orchestra Leader, a nine-year-old veteran with 10 victories on his race record. Claimed by trainer Jimmy Day from a victory at Foxfield Fall last year, Orchestra Leader finished third in a tough Iroquois Steeplechase ratings handicap on May 12. In his most recent start, he was pulled up in a Fair Hill Races allowance hurdle later in May.
Day named apprentice Keri Brion to ride, and Orchestra Leader will carry 153 pounds with the five-pound apprentice allowance.
Michael Mitchell rode two winners at Saratoga Race Course and another at Monmouth Park this summer, and he will seek to continue his success aboard Thomas Hulfish’s Swellelegent, winner of Monmouth’s ratings handicap on Aug. 9.
Trained by Neil Morris, Swellelegent subsequently finished fourth in Saratoga’s Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes on Aug. 22. The six-year-old Pure Prize gelding carries 157.
Also in the first division’s field is Rosbrian Farm’s Cheers to Us, who finished a nose behind Swellelegent in the Monmouth race. Ross Geraghty, currently the top jockey by purse winnings, has the mount for trainer Ricky Hendriks.
Jack Doyle, who leads the jockey standings by wins, will be aboard Robert A. Kinsley’s Unsinkable for trainer Elizabeth Voss. Irish-bred Unsinkable is coming off a dominant, front-running victory in a Radnor Hunt Races allowance hurdle on May 19.
In the Oxmoor Steeplechase’s second division, trainer Billy Santoro will saddle top-rated L’Aigle Royal, who will be ridden by apprentice Alex Leventhal and will carry 153 pounds with the five-pound break in the weights.
In his most recent start, Straylight Racing’s German-bred L’Aigle Royal finished third is Fair Hill’s allowance hurdle.
Darren Nagle, the reigning champion jockey, will be aboard Donna Rogers’ Dapper Dan, who is coming back after more than a year on the sidelines. With Nagle with the saddle for trainer Morris, Dapper Dan won a Parx Racing handicap hurdle in July 2017. Dapper Dan carries 157 pounds.
Oskar Denarius, shipped in from England for Saratoga’s A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1), will have a new owner, Apple Equipment, and a new trainer, Richard Valentine, for the Oxmoor’s second division. Tom Garner will ride the Irish-bred, who had three victories in English handicap hurdles earlier this year.
He will carry 154 pounds, as will Irv Naylor’s Jarir and Gillian Johnston’s Cite, both maiden winners in the spring. Graham Watters will be aboard Jarir for trainer Cyril Murphy, and reigning champion trainer Jack Fisher will put Willie McCarthy aboard Cite.
The program also includes two maiden hurdles, both of which were oversubscribed, and a very competitive full field for the Jay Trump novice timber race. The afternoon’s training flat race honors the memory of Edward S. “Ned” Bonnie, a renowned equine attorney and longtime steeplechase participant who died in March.
High Hope will be the first of 12 fall meets to feature high-definition video of its races. The principal purpose is to provide race stewards with high-quality, real-time images to assure fair racing. In addition, the meets will have access to high-definition video for marketing campaigns and to present steeplechase racing to a wider audience.