Top Striker, winner of the $50,000 Carolina Cup steeplechase in Camden last March, is part of an 11-horse field which is expected to meet the starter’s flag in Thursday’s $75,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes at the Saratoga Race Course.
Post time for the first race on Thursday’s card is 12:25 p.m.
The first of 12 steeplechase races at the Spa begins Wednesday with a $65,000 allowance chase which drew a field of 10 jumpers.
Owned by Camden’s Sue Sensor, Top Striker is trained in Camden by Arch Kingsley and will again be ridden by regular jockey and part-time Camden resident Willie McCarthy, the current leading jockey in the National Steeplechase Association.
Top Striker opened its 5-year-old campaign by breezing to an 11 ½-length victory over the Springdale Race Course in winning the 2014 Camden spring classic. He subsequently finished third in the Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase in suburban Charlotte on April 26. Kingsley tightened Top Striker with a third on the Belmont Park turf on July 4.
Kingsley, a friend and riding colleague of the late Jonathan Kiser, has had success in this particular race. In 2009, the then-retired Kingsley donned a pair of racing silks, once again, and won the third edition of the Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes aboard You the Man for trainer Todd Wyatt.
Bill Pape’s Bluegrass Summer, the reigning novice steeplechase champion, returns to the races Thursday in the Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes. Trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard, Bluegrass Summer has shown an affinity for Saratoga and a decided knack for winning tight finishes. His championship margin from three victories was less than three-quarters of a length, including a neck victory in a Saratoga optional allowance hurdle last August. His regular jockey, Bernie Dalton, is returning from a broken collarbone.
Bluegrass Summer will be making his first start since finishing fourth in the AFLAC Supreme Hurdle at the Steeplechase at Callaway in Georgia last November. He will be coupled in the wagering with Anne Pape’s Fog Island, who is trained by Richard Valentine and will be ridden by Robbie Walsh.
Valentine also entered Gil Johnston’s Awesome Pearl, who will be ridden by Kieran Norris. Fog Island most recently was pulled up in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois in Nashville, and Awesome Pearl finished sixth in Iroquois’ Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes on May 10.
Jack Fisher, who shared the 2013 trainer title with Sheppard, entered Edith Dixon’s Schoodic, last year’s three-year-old champion. The homebred Tiznow gelding fell from the unbeaten ranks over fences when third in the Marcellus Frost. Paddy Young, the reigning champion jockey, has the mount.
Saratoga will be the proving ground for several imported hurdlers. Irv Naylor’s Irish-bred Saint Jerome already has two wins this year in England and will be ridden by Ross Geraghty, who has accumulated six wins over fences over the last three race meets, including two wins at Park Racing on July 1. Saint Jerome’s new trainer, Cyril Murphy, has a gaudy 38 percent win mark this year and is tied for the trainer lead with Fisher.
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Janet Elliot will saddle Gregory Hawkins’ Gmac, who made his U.S. debut with an allowance hurdle win at the Radnor Hunt Races in Pennsylvania on May 17. Danielle Hodsdon has the mount.
Elizabeth Voss Murray, who took over training for her late father, Tom Voss, in the spring, will send out The Fields Stable’s Bob Le Beau, an Irish hurdler who will be making his first 2014 start under Jack Doyle. Bob Le Beau will be coupled in the wagering with Kingdom, also owned by The Fields Stable of Betty and Laddy Merck. Kingdom most recently finished fifth in the Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes and will be ridden by Gus Dahl.
Voss Murray also will saddle Robert Kinsley’s Tempt Me Alex, winner of the Iroquois Steeplechase’s Bright Hour Stakes. Jeff Murphy has the mount.
Completing the field is Rock Ford Stables’ Sporty, who finished third in the Bright Hour for trainer Julie Gomena. Xavier Aizpuru will ride.
The $75,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes honors the memory of the two-time champion jockey (1997, 1999), who died in a non-racing accident in 2000.