Two veterans of American Steeplechasing will clash with two relative newcomers in the $50,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3), the featured race of the 48th annual Aiken Spring Steeplechase in Aiken, S.C., on Saturday, March 22.
The Aiken Spring Steeplechase at Ford Conger Field launches the 2014 National Steeplechase Association season and heralds the arrival of spring in the Carolinas. First post time is 1 p.m. for the five-race program.
Owned by South Carolina horseman Dale Thiel, Call Me Sonny is a veteran winner of claiming races and starter handicaps. He will step up to graded-stakes competition in the two-mile Budweiser Imperial Cup for trainer Ricky Hendriks and was assigned the 146-pound highweight. Last year, Call Me Sonny won the Valentine Memorial, a starter handicap hurdle at the Fair Hill Races in Maryland, and a Virginia Fall Races optional claiming hurdle. Jacob Roberts will ride.
The race’s other veteran is Bill Pape’s Dugan, also a winner in the claiming ranks for Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Dugan has shown a preference for the Aiken course, where he has won three of his seven career victories. He made history at the 2011 Aiken Fall meet when his victory pushed Sheppard past the $20-million milestone in National Steeplechase Association purses. Richard Boucher will ride Dugan, who carries 142 pounds.
If Dugan likes the Aiken course, then Pleasant Woodman absolutely loves it. Now six, Pleasant Woodman scored both of his 2013 victories on the Ford Conger turf. Owned by Virginia B. Lazenby and Farm d’Allie Racing Stables, he won his maiden victory at last year’s Aiken Spring meet and came back in October to score a dominating, front-running victory in the Budweiser Holiday Cup, an optional allowance hurdle at the Aiken Fall meet.
The Woodman gelding will carry 144 pounds, the second highweight in the Budweiser Imperial Cup. Trainer Doug Fout named Kieran Norris, 2013’s champion apprentice jockey, to ride.
Another fresh face with an affinity for Aiken is Dogwood Stable’s Street Fight, who won his maiden start over fences at the 2013 Aiken Fall meet. Trained by Arch Kingsley Jr., the five-year-old Street Sense gelding will carry 140 pounds and will be ridden again by Willie McCarthy.
Here are the entrants for the $50,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3):
Pleasant Woodman. 2008 ch. g., Woodman—Pleasant Sands, by Sandpit (Brz). Owner: Virginia Lazenby and Farm d’Allie Racing Stables. Trainer: Doug Fout. Jockey: Kieran Norris. 2013 record: 9-2-1-1, $36,550. 2012 record: 6-0-1-1, $6,210. 5-2 odds. Loves the Ford Conger course. Won maiden hurdle at 2013 Aiken Spring and then wired the Budweiser Holiday Cup at Aiken Fall. Finished second in a Virginia Fall optional allowance hurdle. Front-end speed may make a difference in small field. Second in the Budweiser Imperial Cup weights at 144.
Call Me Sonny. 2006 b. g., Posse—Chocolate Mauk, by Cozzene. Owner: Dale Thiel. Trainer: Ricky Hendriks. Jockey: Jacob Roberts. 2013 record: 8-2-1-2, $48,700. 2012 record: 8-2-1-2, $11,000. 2-1 odds. Won the Valentine Memorial starter handicap at the 2013 Fair Hill Races in Maryland and later won Virginia Fall optional claimer. Ran second in Saratoga optional allowance in August. Finished third in a Virginia Gold Cup starter allowance after similar outcome in Dogwood Classic claimer at Colonial Downs on April 6. Began season with fifth in Aiken Spring optional allowance. Tops Budweiser Imperial Cup weights at 146.
Dugan. 2004 ch. g., Forest Wildcat–Ratings, by Caveat. Owner: William L. Pape. Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. Jockey: Richard Boucher. 2013 NSA record: 8-2-1-1, 38,500. 2012 NSA record: 2-0-0-1, $3,750. 4-1 odds. Finished third in Aiken Fall’s Budweiser Holiday Cup. Won Radnor claimer after victory in Tryon optional claimer. Started 2013 with a second in an Aiken Spring optional allowance before finishing fourth in a claiming hurdle at Colonial Downs’ Dogwood Classic. Put trainer over $20-million mark in NSA purses with a victory in a 2011 Aiken Fall claimer. Weighted at 142 for Budweiser Imperial Cup.
Street Fight. 2009 b. g., Street Sense–Reportedly, by Silver Deputy. Owner: Dogwood Stable. Trainer: Arch Kingsley Jr. Jockey: Willie McCarthy. 2013 record: 2-1-0-0, $7,500. 5-1 odds. Ran a powerful race to win maiden debut over fences at Aiken Fall, then was eighth in Colonial Cup allowance hurdle. Weighted at 140 for the handicap.