While about 5,105 filled State Mutual Stadium for the first crack of the bat in Rome, Steeplechase officials said earlier they are expecting more than 25,000 fans today at Kingston Downs off U.S. 411 between Rome and Cartersville.
Seasonal weather is expected to greet the 38th annual running of the Atlanta Steeplechase, when Kingston Downs gates open at 9 a.m.
Today’s forecast calls for a partly cloudy sky becoming mostly clear late with highs in the lower 70s and northwest winds at 10 to 15 mph.
Fans will see six races this afternoon — five hurdle races and one flat race sponsored by the Georgia Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. In addition, the Atlanta Steeplechase has attracted the nation’s top jockey and trainer.
With a total purse of $175,000, the Atlanta Steeplechase is the fourth richest of the spring racing season.
Today’s race card includes the $50,000 Beaulieu of America Novice Stakes, the $50,000 SunTrust/Coca-Cola Atlanta Cup, a $25,000 maiden hurdle, a $25,000 open claiming hurdle, a $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle and a $10,000 open flat race. The 1-1/8-mile flat race has attracted a full field of 10.
Eight talented hurdlers are lined up for the Beaulieu of America race, one of today’s feature races and a key prep for the first leg of the Steeplechase Triple Crown at Churchill Downs on May 1.
The Steeplechase Triple Crown consists of three $100,000 races linked to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
The field for the Beaulieu of America race looks competitive. The group includes young hurdlers like Hotspur (two wins in four starts), Coal Dust (2-for-3), Mr. Perkolater (2-for-5) and Imperial Gold (1-for-2).
Owned by Peachtree Stable, a major player in flat racing, Hotspur won two races last spring but was shelved for the remainder of 2002 with a minor ankle injury. The 6-year-old son of Pine Bluff will be ridden by 2002 champion jockey David Bentley, while looking to earn a trip to the Triple Crown.
Others in the field include 2002 Atlanta maiden winner Understood, a former graded stakes competitor on the flat, recent maiden winner Water Hunter, stakes-placed Gallant Turk and 2002 maiden winner Preemptive Strike.
Older stakes horses get a chance to run at Atlanta as well. The $50,000 SunTrust/Coca-Cola Atlanta Cup features just five horses but all are stakes winners.
Coppertree Farm’s Quel Senor, who won the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase, heads the list while trying to rediscover his winning form. The 8-year-old French import spent five weeks at Cornell University late last year while undergoing surgery to repair a breathing problem. Winless since that tally in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup, the horse could earn a trip to the $150,000 Royal Chase at Keeneland April 25 with a good effort.
“It will be a test for him, but in the right race he’s as good as any of them,” said Todd Wyatt, assistant to trainer Tom Voss, the National Steeplechase Association’s champion trainer last year.
The Voss stable also entered Anofferucantrefuse, who makes his seasonal debut. The 6-year-old, owned by Fox Ridge Farm, is a dangerous front-runner who won the Joe Aitcheson Novice in his first start of 2002.
Owner Gillian Johnston, an Atlanta Steeplechase steward and a resident of nearby Chattanooga, sends two horses into the race. Najjm, a solid novice of 2002, goes for trainer Bruce Miller. Snowball Flannagan, who comes off an impressive score in the Regions Bank Imperial Cup at Aiken, S.C., March 22, steps up for trainer Janet Elliot. Both horses won over the Atlanta course last year.
Jack Fisher, the leading trainer of 2003 thus far, will run Edie Dixon’s Shamrock Isle in the 2 3/8-mile race. The 8-year-old won at Saratoga last year, and is a capable veteran.
The Steeplechase Times contributed to this report