Country Cousin and Pullyourfingerout, winners of the Budweiser Imperial Cup in 2011 and 2012, respectively, are among seven nominees to the $50,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3), the feature race of the 47th annual Aiken Spring Races on Saturday, March 23. First post time for the six-race program at Ford Conger Field in Aiken, S.C., is 1 p.m.
Country Cousin, owned by Nicole H. Perry’s Oakwood Stable and trained by Julie Gomena, had three third-place finishes in graded steeplechase stakes last year before finishing off the board in $100,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) at Saratoga Race Course. In addition to the 2011 Imperial Cup, Country Cousin also won Colonial Downs’ David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 3) that year.
Pullyourfingerout, campaigned by three-time National Steeplechase Association leading owner Irvin S. Naylor, made his only 2012 start in the Imperial Cup and won by 11 3/4 lengths. Brianne Slater trains the six-year-old Irish-bred gelding.
Slater also nominated Naylor’s Decoy Daddy, who was second to Country Cousin in the 2011 Budweiser Imperial Cup. The Irish-bred finished second in the 2012 Noel Laing Handicap while bidding for a third straight victory in the Montpelier, Va., stakes race. He subsequently was unplaced in the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) at Camden, S.C.
Nominated to a return visit to Aiken is Silverton Hill’s Darkwatch, winner of the 2012 Budweiser Holiday Cup allowance race at Aiken Fall. The five-year-old Royal Academy gelding is trained by Leslie Young, who trained 2010 Imperial Cup winner Torlundy.
Sue Sensor’s Sunshine Numbers was nominated to make the trip to the Budweiser Imperial Cup from trainer Arch Kingsley Jr.’s Camden base. The 2011 Carolina Cup (Gr. 3) winner easily won the Colonial Cup’s Hobkirk Hill starter allowance after setting all the pace on Nov. 17.
Owner-trainer Karen Gray nominated hard-knocking Cuse, whose two 2012 victories included the Sandhills Cup allowance hurdle at the Stoneybrook Steeplechase in Raeford, N.C., last spring. Also nominated was Mede Cahaba Stables’ Complete Zen, who was a distant sixth in the Noel Laing. Lilith Boucher trains the two-time stakes winner.
Nominees for the $50,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3) are:
Complete Zen. 2006 gr. or ro. g., Cozzene–Complete Number, by Polish Numbers. Owner: Mede Cahaba Stables. Trainer: Lilith Boucher. 2012 record: 2-0-1-0, $2,850. 2011 record: 6-2-1-0, $77,750. Finished sixth in Montpelier’s Noel Laing Handicap on Nov. 3 after second in International Fegentri World Cup flat race at the International Gold Cup at The Plains, Va., on Oct. 20. In previous start, fifth in the 2011 AFLAC Supreme Hurdle. Won 2011 National Hunt Cup at Radnor Hunt Races in Malvern, Pa., and Georgia Cup at Atlanta Steeplechase.
Country Cousin. 2003 dk. b. or br. g., Lear Fan–Stony Lonesome, by Apalachee. Owner: Oakwood Stable (Nicole H. Perry). Trainer: Julie Gomena. 2012 record: 4-0-3-0, $34,500. 2011 record: 3-2-0-1, $64,500. Posted three straight second-place finishes in graded stakes—Carolina Cup (Gr. 3), Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3), and Marcellus Frost (Gr. 2) before sixth in the A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) at Saratoga. Won the 2011 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 3) at Colonial Downs and Budweiser Imperial Cup at Aiken Spring.
Cuse. 2001 gr. or ro. g., Wekiva Springs–Cayman Queen, by *Recupere. Owner-trainer: Karen M. Gray. 2012 record: 8-2-3-0, $30,300. 2011 record: 10-3-0-0, $37,500. Hard-knocking veteran began 2012 with front-running score in Sandhills Cup at Stoneybrook Steeplechase in North Carolina on April 7. Also won an optional allowance claimer at Virginia Fall on Oct. 6.
Darkwatch. 2008 b. g., Royal Academy—Without, by Unbridled. Owner: Silverton Hill. Trainer Leslie Young. 2012 record: 6-2-0-2, $26,500. 2011 record: 3-0-2-0, $7,300. Won final two starts of the 2012 season, including the $25,000 Budweiser Holiday Cup allowance hurdle at Aiken Fall on Oct. 27. Also won $10,000 maiden hurdle at Virginia Fall by 3 1/2 lengths on Oct. 6. Finished second in 2011 Gladstone Stakes for three-year-olds at Far Hills Races in New Jersey.
Decoy Daddy (Ire). 2002 ch. g., Lord of Appeal–Young Bebe, by M. Double M. Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Brianne Slater. 2012 record: 6-1-1-0, $34,300. 2011 record: 7-3-2-0, $124,100. Finished second when bidding for third straight win in Montpelier’s Noel Laing Handicap on Nov. 3, then was sixth in Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) on Nov. 17. Finished fourth in both Grade 1 races at Saratoga Race Course, A. P. Smithwick Memorial Stakes and New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap. Won International Fegentri World Cup flat race at International Gold Cup on Oct. 20.
Pullyourfingerout (Ire). 2007 b. g., Indian Haven—Sandomierz, by Nordico. Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Brianne Slater. 2012 record: 1-1-0-0, $30,000. 2011 NSA record: 1-0-0-0, $0. In only 2012 start, won the $50,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup by 11 3/4 lengths. Won two races over steeplechase fences and one race on the flat in England in 2011 before being purchased and imported to U.S.
Sunshine Numbers. 2002 dk. b. or br. g., Polish Numbers—Saturday Sunshine, by Dahar. Owner: Sue Sensor. Trainer: Arch Kingsley. 2012 record: 2-1-1-0, $16,500. 2011 record: 1-1-0-0, $30,000. Make both of his 2012 starts within a week and won the Colonial Cup’s Hobkirk Hill starter allowance by 10 1/2 lengths on Nov. 17. Won the 2011 Carolina Cup (Gr. 3) in a runaway and went to the sidelines. Was champion New York-bred steeplechase horse in 2009 and 2010.