William Pape’s Mixed Up, the 2009 Eclipse Award winner who went winless last year, will attempt to start the new steeplechase racing season on a positive note in the $45,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup, feature race of the 45th annual Aiken Spring Races in Aiken, S.C., on Saturday, March 26.
First post is 1 p.m. for the six-race program, which is the traditional kickoff for the National Steeplechase Association season.
Mixed Up, trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard, will face a well-balanced field of opponents in the two-mile race over National Fences. Danielle Hodsdon, regular rider for the 12-year-old Carnivalay gelding, again will be in the saddle.
The veteran campaigner started four times last year and had three fifth-place finishes in graded stakes races, most recently the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) at Camden, S.C., on Nov. 13. He was eased in the other race. Under the Imperial Cup’s allowance conditions, Mixed Up will carry the 158-pound highweight.
Second in the weights at 154 pounds in Oakwood Stable’s Country Cousin, winner of the $50,000 National Hunt Cup at the Radnor Hunt Races in suburban Philadelphia on May 15. Trained by Julie Gomena, the eight-year-old Lear Fan gelding was unplaced in his two subsequent starts last year. Carl Rafter, who rode Country Cousin to victory at Radnor, has the mount.
Trainer Janet Elliot entered Gregory D. Hawkins’ Red Letter Day, who chased Mixed Up in 2009 and also was winless in jump races last year. Bernie Dalton was named to ride the Red Ransom gelding, who carries 150 pounds.
Two intriguing imports will carry the lowest weights, 146 pounds. Decoy Daddy scored a lights-out victory in the $40,000 Noel Laing at the Montpelier Hunt Races in Virginia last November and helped to deliver a first champion-owner title to Irvin S. Naylor. Darren Nagle will be aboard the Irish-bred, who is trained by Desmond Fogarty.
Making his first start in more than two years is Australian-bred Torino Luge. Owned by Mary Ann Houghland and trained by Doug Fout, the eight-year-old went to the sidelines after a course-record victory at the Palm Beach Steeplechase in Florida in late 2008. Jeff Murphy has the mount.
Also on the program, 2010 three-year-old champion Demonstrative will make his 2011 debut in the $25,000 Celebrate Aiken, an allowance race at two miles over National Fences. Owned by Jacqueline Ohrstrom and trained by Richard Valentine, Demonstrative will be ridden by Robbie Walsh, who is coming back from a leg injury in 2010.
Sheppard will send out his One Giant Step, who is looking to make a giant step forward in the 2011 racing season. Hodsdon will ride One Giant Step, who will carry the 156-pound highweight.
Opposing them will be two veterans, Chadds Ford Stables’ Saluda Sam and Dave Washer’s Junood.