Be careful with the condition book. When the National Steeplechase Association created starter maiden races, the idea was to give horses a mid-level opportunity between maiden special weights and maiden claimers. The races are restricted to horses who started for a claiming price of $20,000 or less on the flat or over jumps and theoretically are easier spots than straight maiden races.
Hello Cross Border.
Way back in 2017, the millionaire flat horse and multiple graded stakes winner started for $20,000 on four occasions. He won a Woodbine maiden claimer at that level, finished fourth three other times and won twice for a $40,000 tag in 2018. Then he went to winning – the Lubash, the Grade 2 Bowling Green twice, the Prairie Bayou plus placings in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer and Pegasus. He carried 11 wins, eight seconds, six thirds and $1,183,354 on the flat into jump racing last year.
Predictably, the 9-year-old blitzed six overmatched foes in the first National Steeplechase Association jump race of 2023 Saturday at Aiken, S.C. Still owned by Kirk Wycoff’s Three Diamonds Farm, Cross Border went to the front for jockey Parker Hendriks and never looked back. He won by 4 3/4 lengths over Be Yourself (a $16,000 claim on the flat last year) with Mission Brief (beaten for $12,500 four times in 2021). Trainer Keri Brion didn’t hesitate when she saw the condition, confirmed the “any” nature of that claiming start and entered. Cross Border did the rest.
“It worked for me,” she said. “The race was there it was the right move for the horse where he could have a confidence booster instead of a hard race. He would have probably won the other maiden (with a purse of $25,000 compared to $15,000 for the starter) too.”
Bred in New York by Berkshire Stud and B.D. Gibbs, Cross Border won for the first time since December 2021 and stamped his ticket to more steeplechase opportunities. Brion took over the English Channel ridgling’s training last summer, ran him once on the turf at Aqueduct in September and on the flat at the Far Hills steeplechase meet in October. Third there, Cross Border was pulled up in his jump debut at Charleston in November.
“He dropped off at the end of last year, didn’t ship that great and I probably shouldn’t have run him at Charleston,” Brion said. “He had a winter break though, came back in and you can tell he’s a good horse. He’s taken to the jumping. He likes it, genuinely enjoys it. That takes him a long way.”
Cross Border isn’t the first talented flat horse to make the conversion, following the likes of Grade 1 winner Hodges Bay (who won and placed in a stakes) in the 1990s and Grade 1 winner ad Travers starter Uptown Swell (who won five jump races) in the 1980s and others. John’s Call ran over hurdles before he won Grade 1 stakes on the turf. Champion sprinter of 1975, Gallant Bob made on start over hurdles (a fall) in 1979. Top Bid won a steeplechase championship in 1970 after running in the Sanford, Saratoga Special and Hopeful as a 2-year-old and three major Kentucky Derby preps at 3. Mr. Hot Stuff earned $478,500 over jumps after making the Derby and the Belmont Stakes on the flat.
“I told Kirk that it wasn’t a certainty that he’d do well,” said Brion. “More times than not an old class flat horse doesn’t take to the jumping. Kudos to them for wanting to try something different. They wanted to see if he’d enjoy it. Aiken was his chance to show he wanted to do this.”
And he did.
Cross Border led a double for Brion, who won the featured Imperial Cup with The Insider for Hudson River Farm, Madaket Stable and R and K Racing. The Irish import came in with three prior wins over hurdles (two in Ireland and one at Far Hills last fall) and ousted Clara Belle by 3 lengths while leading throughout. Topic Changer finished third of three runners, all trained by Brion.
In the absence of Cross Border, Will Russell’s Seismic Wave won the $25,000 maiden by overtaking Finding Freedom late and scoring by 1 1/4 lengths. It was the winner’s ninth start over jumps against four rivals with a combined one prior start. Bred by Juddmonte Farm, Seismic Wave was no Cross Border but won two stakes on the turf for trainer Bill Mott. Claimed for $25,000 from Chad Brown in 2021, the son of Tapit made eight starts over jumps for trainer Neil Morris last year (finishing second three times).
Irish-bred High Mounte won the 110 handicap hurdle for Richard Colton and trainer Arch Kingsley, drawing off late by 10 3/4 lengths as the co-highweight. The 120 handicap went to English-bred West Newton for Upland Flats Racing and John Lewis and trainer Ricky Hendriks. The 7-year-old collected his third American jump win (to go with a flat score at Pimlico last summer). See Aiken results from the NSA here.
The jump season heads to South Carolina again Saturday for the Carolina Cup at Camden. Four horses clash in the feature, a $50,000 novice hurdle, on a six-race card that includes three maiden races and a 115 handicap.