Soaking rains forced a one-week postponement of Penn National Race Course’s two steeplechase races to June 24, and the result will be a rich weekend of National Steeplechase Association racing, with Colonial Downs’ $50,000 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial Hurdle (Gr. 3) drawing a star-studded group of 13 nominees for the June 26 stakes race.
Penn National, located in suburban Harrisburg, Pa., postponed the scheduled June 17 races because its turf course was drenched the previous weekend. The track’s Friday-evening card on June 24 will include a $30,000 optional allowance and a $25,000 Sport of Kings maiden hurdle, both at 2 1/16 miles.
Two days later, the action shifts to suburban Richmond, Va., for three steeplechase races, highlighted by the 2 1/4-mile Ferguson, which attracted a highly competitive group of nominees. Also on the program are a $10,000 maiden claiming race and a $15,000 conditioned claiming hurdle. Altogether, the weekend purses at the two tracks total $130,000.
Mede Cahaba Stable’s Complete Zen heads toward the 2 1/4-mile Ferguson with two stakes victories this year, most recently the $50,000 National Hunt Cup at the Radnor Hunt Races on May 21. He also won the $50,000 Priority Payment Systems Georgia Cup at the Atlanta Steeplechase on April 16 and finished second in the $50,000 Queen’s Cup MPC ‘Chase two weeks later. Trained by Lilith Boucher, front-running Complete Zen shares the 158-pound highweight under the Ferguson’s allowance conditions.
Also at 158 is Mary Ann Houghland’s Nationbuilder, one of three nominees from Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard’s stable. Winner of last fall’s Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills, N.J., Nationbuilder started his 2011 season with a third-place finish in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) on May 14.
Sheppard also nominated two contenders owned by Bill Pape. Mixed Up, the 2009 Eclipse Award winner, finished fourth in the Iroquois Steeplechase’s $75,000 Marcellus Frost (Gr. 2), and The Price of Love was fifth in the two-mile race at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park. Both were weighted at 150 pounds.
Also nominated from the Marcellus Frost was Oakwood Stable’s Country Cousin, who finished third after winning the Budweiser Imperial Cup at Aiken, S.C., on March 26. Trained by Julie Gomena, Country Cousin would carry 154 pounds.
Dumbarton Stable’s Easy Red, who shares the Ferguson’s 158-pound top weight, finished sixth in the Marcellus Frost in his first 2011 start. Trained by Tom Voss, Easy Red won the Metcalf Memorial at Monmouth Park on Sept. 25.
The $30,000 Strawberry Hill Classic, staged at Colonial Downs on May 21, also shapes up as a key race, with the top four finishers nominated to the Ferguson Memorial.
The race was won by Jack Fisher-trained Straight to It, who is owned by Sheila Williams and Andre Brewster. The Fields Stable’s Your Sum Man, trained by Voss, finished second, and Randleston Farm’s Spy in the Sky was third for trainer Jimmy Day. Irvin S. Naylor’s Percussionist, winner of the $250,000 Grand National at Far Hills last fall, took fourth for new trainer Tom Foley.
Voss also nominated Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Mabou, who won Radnor’s James M. Moran Jr., a Sport of Kings claiming race, by 82 lengths. He shares a 146-pound weight assignment with Straight to It.
Weighted at 142 pounds were Stephen Price’s Fealing Real, who was sixth in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois for trainer Nick Carter, and owner-trainer Bay Cockburn’s Maximize, upset winner of a claiming hurdle at Colonial on June 12.