Steeplechase makes annual return today

The Aiken Spring Steeplechase is set to begin at 1 p.m. today.

The National Steeplechase Association's season kicks off in Aiken yet again as the 46th renewal of the Aiken Steeplechase gets underway at Ford Conger Field this afternoon. In all, 40 horses will be vying for a combined purse of $110,000. The first of six races will begin at 1 p.m., but gates will open at 11 a.m. The feature race, the Budweiser Imperial Cup, will be the fifth race of the afternoon. The field is down to three after Hall of Fame trainer Jonathon Sheppard pulled his gelding Royal Rossi. After Decoy Daddy (IRE) lost a chance at victory on the final jump in last year's Imperial Cup, fellow countryman Pullyourfingerout (IRE) will be looking for a little revenge. One of Irvin Naylor's three horses taking the track on Saturday, the 5-year-old gelding is trained by Joseph Delozier III and will be jockeyed by Ross Geraghty. Also in the race are 7-year-old gelding Birthday Beau who is owned by Michelle Sanger and will be jockeyed by Roddy Mackenzie. Class Indian, who is owned by Mede Cahaba Stable LLC, is trained by Lilith Boucher and jockeyed by Richard Boucher. The day's first race, The W.C. Jackson, features a full field racing 1 1/4 miles on the turf. Three winning jockeys from last year's Steeplechase will be among the group vying for $500, but it does not count towards the horse's record. The entries are Simple Cat, owned and trained by Jazz Napravnik and jockeyed by K. Brion; Alfarabi, Bon Nouvel Chasers LLC, Julie Gomena, MacKenzie; Tiger Jaques, Bright Brook Farm LLC, Sheppard, Brian Crowley; Cat Feathers, owned and trained by Kate Dalton, B. Dalton; Class Cap, Mede Cahaba Stable LLC, L. Boucher, R Boucher; Mr. Universo (BRA), Blue Lotus Racing LLC, Leslie Young, P. Young; Red Letter Day, Gregory Hawkins, Janet Elliot, Robbie Walsh; Country Cousin, Oakwood Stable, Julie Gomena, Darren Nagle; Primero Peru, Rafael Fernandez LLC, Fernandez, S. Colvin and Lucky Will, Carrington Race Stable, Arch Kingsley Jr., J. Price. The second race of the day is the first steeplechase race. The James W. Maloney is a 2-mile maiden hurdle with a purse of $15,000. Eight horses will be in the field, including Gawaarib, Mrs. George L. Ohstrom Jr., Richard Valentine, Nagle; Royale, Magalen Bryant, Kingsley Jr., W. McCarthy; Corsican Boy (GB), Irvin Naylor, Delozier III, Geraghty; Djokovic, Debra Kachel, Ricky Hendricks, Young; Silver Bluff (IRE), Walter Durrett, Caroline Sankey, M. Watts; Classic Bridges, Bryant, Neil Morris, J. Roberts; Happy Digger, owned and trained by Jeremy Gillam, Dalton and EZ Mac, David Hill, Napravnik, MacKenzie. The third race of the day is the G.H. Bostwick 2-mile maiden claiming hurdle race with a purse of $10,000. Of the five horses, Home Grown Lass is perhaps the most intriguing, owned by Sheppard and trained and jockeyed by the nation's top female jockey, Danielle Hodson. The rest of the field includes Hold Your Course, Athene Noctura Stables, Allison White, Nagle; Furtive, owned and trained by Gillam, Dalton; Time for Tutt, Carrington Racing Stable, Kingsley Jr., McCarthy and American Crossing, Marilyn Ketts, L. Boucher, R. Boucher. The fourth race of the day, the Charles S. Bird III, has the day's second largest purse. The 2-mile allowance hurdle comes with a purse of $25,000. The seven-horse field includes Black Bag, Dominic Falini, L. Young, P. Young; Union Army, Naylor, Delozier III, Geraghty; Air Maggy, Bryant, Sheppard and Crowly; Dr. Wheat, William Riddle Jr., Hodson, Walsh; Manacor (IRE) Daybreak Stables, Jimmy Day, Mackenzie; Flight Movie, Ketts, L. Boucher, R. Boucher and Moving Violation, Laura Thiel Shull, Britt Graham, Nagle. The sixth and final race of the day is also a claiming race. The Ford D. Conger will also have a purse of $10,000. The day's final race features seven horses, including Celebratory, owned and trained by Gillam, Dalton; Bermuda, Falini, L. Young, P. Young; Embezzle (GB) Kachel, Hendricks, Walsh; Old Timer, Kinross Farm, Neil Morris, Roberts; Sumo Power, Manown Kisor Jr, Michael Berryman, Watts; Tizallaboutme, High Hope Stables LLC, Kingsley Jr., McCarthy and Crow's Nest, Ivy Dell Stud LLC, Britt Graham, Hodson. Chris Walsh is the arts and entertainment reporter for the Aiken Standard. He graduated from Valdosta State University and hails from Atlanta, Ga.