Pleasant Woodman continued his love affair with Ford Conger Field when he broke on top in the Aiken Spring Steeplechase’s $50,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3), fought off a challenge from Street Fight, and drew clear to a 1 1/2-length victory on Saturday, March 22.
Owned by Virginia Lazenby and Farm d’Allie Racing, Pleasant Woodman is undefeated at the Aiken, S.C., course and has never been headed. Ridden by Kieran Norris, last year’s champion apprentice jockey, the Woodman gelding jumped out to an early advantage and maintained it to the final circuit of the far turn.
Dogwood Stable’s Street Fight, who had won his maiden victory at last year’s Aiken Fall Steeplechase, moved closer to the front-runner and mounted a challenge on the final turn. He drew close to Pleasant Woodman but could not take the advantage. “When Street Fight came to him, he just picked it up again,” Norris said. “He jumped very well, and I just let him find his own pace.”
Pleasant Woodman had the advantage at the final fence and drew clear to the finish line. Trained in Virginia by Doug Fout, Pleasant Woodman ran the Budweiser Imperial Cup’s two miles in 3:45 flat on firm ground. Bill Pape’s Dugan finished third, and Dale Thiel’s Call Me Sonny took fourth.
The Budweiser Imperial Cup was Pleasant Woodman’s first stakes victory and his third straight win at the Aiken course. He ran away to a maiden victory at the 2013 Aiken Spring meet and returned in the fall to win the $25,000 Budweiser Holiday Cup, an optional allowance.
Willie McCarthy, who had ridden Pleasant Woodman in the Holiday Cup, rode Street Fight in the Aiken Fall race and was well aware of where Pleasant Woodman’s natural speed would place him. He said he had to use some of Street Fight’s speed to stay in touch with the front-runner. “I had to go after him,” he said. “I really didn’t have any choice.”
The Aiken Spring Steeplechase, contested under sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-70s and a large crowd, kicked off the 2014 National Steeplechase Association season.