Sunday’s Steeplechase of Charleston in Hollywood, S.C., will bring an end to a topsy-turvy NSA season that resulted in the cancellation of more than two-thirds of the scheduled race meets. As with so many aspects of life and leisure in 2020, Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the sport. Aside from a full summer program at Saratoga and pandemic-abbreviated campaign at Colonial Downs, just two sanctioned events were run in the spring, with six more held this fall. Sunday’s meet will be just one of two to admit fans.
The lack of spectators and sponsorship has taken a toll on steeplechase racing, which depends on admissions, parking, and tailgating income — not parimutuel wagering — to fund purses, pay the bills, and support charitable causes that often benefit from the races.
Mindful of the virus’s recent resurgence, the Steeplechase of Charleston, run at Stono Ferry Racetrack, will focus on small-group tailgating. In response to national and state health guidelines, spectators will be accommodated in single vehicle spots with tailgating permitted in groups of up to five. The track will accommodate half its usual capacity. Guests are asked to bring their own food and beverages. They will also be required to wear masks when moving away from their tailgate spots. Compared to last year, there will be double the number of restroom and sanitation facilities; additional staff will be on hand to keep public spaces clean.
The Charleston card consists of five races: two maiden-claiming hurdles; two maiden hurdles (one restricted to three-year-olds); and a handicap for horses rated at 110 and lower.
While the title of leading trainer has been decided — with Jonathan Sheppard dethroning perennial champion Jack Fisher — the contest for leading jockey is still a nailbiter. Michael Mitchell has eleven victories to Gerard Galligan’s 10. Both have mounts in all five races on Sunday. Tom Garner and Sean McDermott, who are not scheduled to ride, are tied at eight.
Among the entrants in the three-year-old hurdle are some interesting newcomers. Heaven Made, bred, owned, and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, makes his career debut. Sired by Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, Heaven Made is the son of Sheppard’s talented mare Brilliant Match, who captured the Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords Stakes at Saratoga in her final career start in 2014. Heaven Made finished sixth in a training flat race at the International Gold Cup Races on Oct. 24. The Hall of Famer also saddles homebred Lap of the Gods, a son of his mare Push My Luck, the dam of Bet the Pot and Penitence. Both of those Sheppard runners are entered in other races on the Charleston program. Lap of the Gods finished fourth in his first start, at Foxfield in October.
New York-bred Cainudothetwist, owned by Carrington Holdings and trained by Arch Kinglsley, made three 2020 starts on the flat at Belmont and Saratoga, and is likely to improve after her debut over hurdles at Foxfield, where she raced greenly and was pulled up.
Fearnought Farm’s Koko Star, from the Doug Fout barn, made his initial start over hurdles following four tries on the flat, at Virginia Fall in Middleburg, finishing fourth. Koko Star is by top turf sire Kitten’s Joy.
Cloudbased, a son of Kentucky Derby winner Orb, was bred by prominent flat owner Stuart Janney and trained by Shug McGaughey. He won once on the flat in four tries, a maiden claimer, and makes his first hurdle start. Cloudbased is owned by Mary Ann Houghland and Blythe Miller Davies, and trained by Joe Davies. He tuned up for his debut in a training flat contest at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races on Nov. 1.
The Steeplechase of Charleston will be streamed live via the NSA web site. First-race post time is 1 pm. The live stream is sponsored by Brown Advisory, Charleston’s The Post and Courier, Bruton Street-US, and the Virginia Equine Alliance.