Bill Pape’s Bluegrass Summer, the reigning novice steeplechase champion, returns to the races Thursday against a full field of contenders for Saratoga Race Course’s $75,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes. Post time is 12:25 p.m., and TVG will provide live coverage.
Trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard, Bluegrass Summer has shown an affinity for Saratoga and a decided knack for winning tight finishes. His championship margin from three victories was less than three-quarters of a length, including a neck victory in a Saratoga optional allowance hurdle last August. His regular jockey, Bernie Dalton, is returning from a broken collarbone.
Bluegrass Summer will be making his first start since finishing fourth in the AFLAC Supreme Hurdle at the Steeplechase at Callaway in Georgia last November. He will be coupled in the wagering with Anne Pape’s Fog Island, who is trained by Richard Valentine and will be ridden by Robbie Walsh.
Valentine also entered Gil Johnston’s Awesome Pearl, who will be ridden by Kieran Norris. Fog Island most recently was pulled up in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) in Nashville, and Awesome Pearl finished sixth in Iroquois’ Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes on May 10.
Jack Fisher, who shared the 2013 trainer title with Sheppard, entered Edith Dixon’s Schoodic, last year’s three-year-old champion. The homebred Tiznow gelding fell from the unbeaten ranks over fences when third in the Marcellus Frost. Paddy Young, the reigning champion jockey, has the mount.
Willie McCarthy, the current leading jockey, has the mount on Sue Sensor’s Top Striker, who opened the year with a victory in the Carolina Cup for novices at Camden, S.C., on March 29. He subsequently finished third in the Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase near Charlotte on April 26. Trainer Arch Kingsley Jr. tightened Top Striker with a third on the Belmont Park turf on July 4.
Saratoga will be the proving ground for several imported hurdlers. Irv Naylor’s Irish-bred Saint Jerome already has two wins this year in England and will be ridden by Ross Geraghty, who has accumulated six wins over fences over the last three race meets, including two wins at Park Racing on July 1. Saint Jerome’s new trainer, Cyril Murphy, has a gaudy 38% win mark this year and is tied for the trainer lead with Fisher.
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Janet Elliot will saddle Gregory Hawkins’ Gmac, who made his U.S. debut with an allowance hurdle win at the Radnor Hunt Races in Pennsylvania on May 17. Danielle Hodsdon has the mount.
Elizabeth Voss Murray, who took over training for her late father, Tom Voss, in the spring, will send out The Fields Stable’s Bob Le Beau, an Irish hurdler who will be making his first 2014 start under Jack Doyle. Bob Le Beau will be coupled in the wagering with Kingdom, also owned by The Fields Stable of Betty and Laddy Merck. Kingdom most recently finished fifth in the Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes and will be ridden by Gus Dahl.
Voss Murray also will saddle Robert Kinsley’s Tempt Me Alex, winner of the Iroquois Steeplechase’s Bright Hour Stakes. Jeff Murphy has the mount.
Completing the field is Rock Ford Stables’ Sporty, who finished third in the Bright Hour for trainer Julie Gomena. Xavier Aizpuru will ride.
The Jonathan Kiser honors the memory of the two-time champion jockey (1997, 1999), who died in a non-racing accident in 2000.
Here is the field for the $75,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes.
Kingdom. 2009 b. g., Louis Quatorze—Distant Drumroll, by Eastern Echo. Owner: The Fields Stable. Trainer: Elizabeth Voss Murray. Jockey: Gus Dahl. 2014 record: 1-0-00-0, $3,000. 2013 record: 10-2-2-1, $63,910. In only 2014 start, finished fifth in Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes on May 10. Closed out busy 2013 season with gritty victory in Colonial Cup allowance hurdle. Fifth in first division of Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle on Oct. 19. Had second and third in Saratoga optional allowances after fourth in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes on July 25. Mimi Voss-bred is half brother to two-time filly and mare champion Guelph (2005 and 2008).
Gmac (Ire). 2010 dk. b. or br. g., Excellent Art (GB)—Kafayet, by Secreto. Owner: Gregory Hawkins. Trainer: Janet Elliot. Jockey: Danielle Hodsdon. 2014 record: 1-1-0-0. 18,000. In U.S. debut, won an allowance hurdle at the Radnor Hunt Races in Pennsylvania on May 17. Raced mostly at small Irish tracks last year and won maiden victory in three-year-old hurdle at Killarney.
Tempt Me Alex. 2009 b. g., Afleet Alex—Attemptress, by Meadowlake. Owner: Robert A. Kinsley. Trainer: Elizabeth Voss Murray. Jockey: Jeff Murphy. 2014 record: 2-1-0-1, $23,500. 2013 record: 6-1-2-1, $24,900. Won Iroquois Steeplechase’s Bright Hour Stakes by more than four lengths on May 10. In first start of the year, finished third in Foxfield Spring’s Daniel Van Clief Memorial optional allowance hurdle. Won maiden victory in final 2013 start, at the Steeplechase at Callaway in Georgia.
Bob Le Beau (Ire). 2007 dk. b. or. br. g., Big Bad Bob—Shine Silently, by Bering (GB). Owner: The Fields Stable. Trainer: Elizabeth Voss Murray. Jockey: Jack Doyle. 2014 record: No NSA starts. Formerly based in Ireland with trainer Jessica Harrington and making his U.S. debut in a tough spot. Has not raced since last October; won an allowance hurdle last August.
Saint Jerome (Ire). 2010 b. g., Jeremy—Eminence Gift, by Cadeaux Genereux. Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Cyril Murphy. Jockey: Ross Geraghty. 2014 record: No NSA starts. Accomplished young hurdler, formerly trained by Jamie Osborne, already has two wins this year, in novice hurdles at Warwick and Ludlow, where he won by 22 lengths. Most recently third in a handicap hurdle at Sandown on April 26. Picks up services of hot jockey.
Sporty. 2007 dk. b. or br. g., Smarty Jones—Byzantine, by Quiet American. Owner: Rock Ford Stables. Trainer: Julie Gomena. Jockey: Xavier Aizpuru. 2014 record: 2-0-0-1, $6,000. 2013 record: 4-1-0-0, $19,500. Finished third in the Bright Hour Stakes at Nashville’s Iroquois Steeplechase on May 10 after fourth in Carolina Cup, his 2014 debut. Began 2013 season with score in Dogwood Classic allowance hurdle. Subsequently finished fifth in a division of Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle and sixth in AFLAC Supreme Hurdle at the Steeplechase at Callaway. Was a $40,000 claim from a Racing Hall of Fame trainer in 2011.
Schoodic. 2010 b. g., Tiznow—Aunt Henny, by Hennessy. Owner: Edith R. Dixon. Trainer: Jack Fisher. 2014 record: 2-1-0-1, $22,500. 2013 record: 2-2-0-0, $30,000. Lost his first race over fences when third in Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes on May 10. Won Dogwood Classic allowance hurdle at Colonial Downs on April 5. Did nothing wrong in his two 2013 victories, daylight scores in Far Hills’ Gladstone Stakes and Colonial Cup’s Raymond G. Woolfe Memorial, on his way to three-year-old championship.
Top Striker. 2009 b. g., Van Nistelrooy–Two’s Cozy, by Cozzene. Owner: Sue Sensor. Trainer: Arch Kingsley Jr. Jockey: Willie McCarthy. 2014 NSA record: 2-1-0-1, $35,000. 2013 record: 3-1-1-0, $17,700. Scored impressive victory in Carolina Cup in his 2014 debut before third in Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase on April 26. Broke through for maiden win over hurdles at the 2013 Colonial Cup meet after second in maiden hurdle at the Charleston Cup. Tightened for Kiser with third in Belmont Park turf race on July 4.
Bluegrass Summer. 2008 gr. or ro. g., Purge—Rose of Summer, by El Prado (Ire). Owner: Bill Pape. Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. Jockey: Bernie Dalton. 2013 NSA record: 6-3-0-0, $99,600. Assured himself the 2013 novice championship when he held off late challenge to win first division of Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle of Oct. 19. Ended year with fourth in the AFLAC Supreme Hurdle at the Steeplechase at Callaway on Nov. 2. Won Saratoga optional allowance on Aug. 29. Scored maiden victory at Stoneybrook on April 6.
Awesome Pearl. 2009 dk. b. or br. g., Awesome Again–Gottcha Last, by Pleasant Tap. Owner: Gil Johnston. Trainer: Richard Valentine. Jockey: Kieran Norris. 2014 record: 2-0-1-0, $11,250. 2013 record: 4-2-0-0, $22,800. Finished second in the $50,000 Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase for novices near Charlotte on April 26 before an even sixth in Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes on May 10. Won the Montpelier Cup optional allowance hurdle at the Montpelier Hunt Races in November after maiden victory at International Gold Cup.
Fog Island. 2006 b. g., Rossini—Orchid Island, by Broad Brush. Owner: Anne Pape. Trainer: Richard Valentine. Jockey: Robbie Walsh. 2014 record: 1-0-0-0, $0. 2013 record: 3-0-1-0, $12,750. 2012 record: 5-1-0-0, $47,400. 2011 record: 8-1-1-0, $24,680. Pulled up when contesting top company in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) on May 10. Abbreviated 2013 season began with second in Carolina Cup. Subsequently pulled up in Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase and ran fourth in Iroquois’ Marcellus Frost Stakes. Won the 2012 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills, N.J.