Following the unveiling of the 2021 spring calendar last week, the National Steeplechase Association has released the accompanying Conditions Book, which spells out eligibility, distance, and purse details of 62 races spread over 13 meets. The book can be accessed or downloaded from the NSA web site at https://www.nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2021-Spring-Conditions-Book.pdf
Working in collaboration with the Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association, NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo said that the Conditions Book underwent numerous revisions before being finalized as a result of the real-time challenges posed by the pandemic. The sport was — and continues to be — hard hit economically because of the outright ban or limitation on fans, which has led to a loss of admissions, tailgating, and sponsorship revenues. Those financial realities have translated into generally lower purses vs. 2019, though compared to the devastating 2020 spring, horsemen have vastly more racing opportunities and prize money — $1,315,000 in total purses — to aim for.
Also on the plus side, the schedule calls for the return of 10 meets that were cancelled last year due to Covid-19, plus the addition of a new one: The season-opening Cheshire races in Coatesville, Pa., outside of Unionville, on Sunday March 28. Three meets have announced they will not take place this spring: Aiken, Foxfield, and Fair Hill.
Highlights of the upcoming season include six hurdle stakes and six timber stakes. The marquee event, the Iroquois Steeplechase in Nashville, rescheduled from early May, carries $250,000 in purses anchored by the $100,000 G1 Iroquois, which will be contested over 2 ¾ miles instead of the usual 3 miles because of the potential for hot weather on its new date of June 26. Also on the card are the $50,000 Green Pastures Sport of Kings novice stakes, and the $25,000 Margaret Currey Henley filly and mare stakes.
Close behind in value to the Iroquois are the Middleburg Spring Races at Glenwood Park in Virginia ($205,000 in purses) on May 1, featuring the G2 Temple Gwathmey hurdle stakes, and the Virginia Gold Cup Races at Great Meadow in The Plains on May 29 ($200,000), which boasts two $50,000 stakes, the G3 David Semmes Memorial and Virginia Gold Cup over timber.
The season marks the return of the Maryland timber triple in April, albeit with purses decreased from 2019 levels. The historic Maryland Hunt Cup, on April 24, carries a $60,000 purse, down from $100,000, while the My Lady’s Manor stakes, on April 10, and Grand National, on April 17, are each worth $30,000, both down $20,000.
Also returning — for the first time since 2018 — are the Tryon Block House Races in Columbus, N.C., on June 5. Headlining the five-race card is the $30,000 Block House handicap for horses rated at 125 or lower.
Overall, the spring calendar appears notably different from pre-Covid spring seasons. A number of race meets pushed back their dates, hoping for safer conditions — and greater distance from the worst of the pandemic — that would improve the chances of their events taking place and, hopefully, with at least some spectators in attendance.