Going to Carolina

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Stoneybrook has the NSA stage to itself this weekend (following the recent cancellation of the Palm Beach meet) and the Tarheel State steeplechase serves up a sunny 70-degree forecsat, four hurdle races, a pair of training flats and $60,000 in purses.

The featured $25,000 Sandhills Cup, an allowance/optional claimer at 2 3/8 miles, drew an accomplished field of 11 to the course at Southern Pines. Sheila Williams’ Rare Bush, winner of the Grade III Appleton last fall at Far Hills, returns on short rest after running third in the Imperial Cup at Aiken March 21. The Jack Fisher-trainee owns a decisive class edge over the rest of the field and may prove tough to beat.

Should the favorite falter there are plenty lined up that could pick up the slack. Irish immigrant Dalucci, whose three previous U.S. tries all came in stakes, 2006 filly/mare champ Orchid Princess, Cuse, Terpsichorean, Fogcutter, Mecklenburg and Pleasant Pick all warrant respect.

A $15,000 maiden hurdle at 2 1/8 miles opens the card. Tom Voss sends out a pair of talented prospects set to make their hurdle debut. Bob Kinsley’s Giant Strides owns one of the better pedigrees to hit the steeplechase scene in quite some time. The 4-year-old is by Giant’s Causeway out of the Grade I-placed mare Bella Bellucci. Giant Strides won once on the flat while trained by Todd Pletcher and Saturday would mark his hurdle debut. Alnoff Stable’s Ground Frost is another who hails from a top flat barn. Last fall, while with Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, the son of Aptitude broke his maiden over Belmont Park’s turf course.

Calvin Houghland’s Nationbuilder could hold an experience edge, based on his win at Little Everglades point-to-point March 8 for Jonathan Sheppard. Timber Bay Farm’s Decisive Play is also signed on for Sheppard and deserves a look. Other notables include Western Dynamo, Honolua Storm, Aero and Coupe De Ville.

Edition Farm’s Rusty Reign heads the second, a $10,000 maiden claimer at 2 1/8 miles. Rusty Reign completed an all-Janet Elliot exacta when he ran second to Silent Vow at Aiken.

The third, a $10,000 claimer, brings together a solid field of nine older horses. Charismic American, Roseland, Waracha, Second Approval, Prancing Cat and Summersville can all threaten for the win on their best day.

A pair of 1 1/2-mile training flats close out the card, with each led by the a novice champions; Fox Ridge Farm’s Planets Aligned (2007) and Bill Pape’s The Price Of Love (2008).

In addition to Stoneybrook, the point-to-point action really heats up, giving several a horses a chance for another tightener prior to an upcoming NSA start.

Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point, Saturday, April 4. Ben Venue, Va.

Doug Fout looks to use the second, a 1 1/2-mile flat test for novice riders, as a stakes prep for both Dark Equation and Gliding. Peggy Steinman’s Dark Equation took the Grade I New York Turf Writers last summer at Saratoga and has run well on the flat in the past, including a score at Open House earlier during the Spa meet. Gliding, now owned by Irv Naylor, won the Grade I Foxbrook over novice runners at Far Hills in 2007 and traveled to Japan last year for the Nakayama Grand Jump, but has not visited the winner’s circle since. Gigger, Duck Hunt and Henry’s Hero are others that should start on the circuit during the spring season.

The nine-race card also features the likes of Orpington, Baron Von Ruckus, Just A Prince, Church Ghost, Belknap County, Antonio Star, Devil’s Preacher, Whycocomagh, Dynatonia, When The Saints and Incomplete (who is also cross-entered later in the weekend at Elkridge-Harford).

Elkridge-Harford Hunt Point-to-Point, Saturday, April 4. Monkton, Md.

Fans won’t have to wait long to see some of their favorite timber stars, as the card opens with a smasher. The 3-mile open timber has lured a bevy of standouts that could be eyeing the Maryland Hunt Cup or Virginia Gold Cup later this spring.

Augustin Stable’s 2007 timber champion Irish Prince is among the standouts. The Sanna Hendriks-trainee was winless in four starts last season but tested the best of division while never finishing worse than fourth.

The undefeated and untested Incomplete could also see action for Bob Kinsley and Ann Stewart. Incomplete is perfect in two timber starts, at Grand National in 2007 and 2008 and already owns a point-to-point win at Piedmont March 21.

Nick Arundel’s Seeyouattheevent –  winner of the Radnor Hunt Cup and International Gold Cup in 2007 – is on the comeback trail for Jack Fisher after missing the 2008 season. Bold Quest, Shady Valley and Coal Dust could also use this race as a springboard to stakes assignments later this spring.

The five-race card also included Brandy Station, Won Wild Bird, Delta Park, Analyze, In Pursuit Of Love and Heros Among Us.

Marlborough Hunt Races, Sunday, April 5. Davidsonville, Md.

This monster 11-race card doesn’t have the star power some of the weekend’s other spots do, but there are definitely a few names worth mentioning and keeping an eye on later this spring.

Mon Villez embarks on a new career for Calvin Houghland and Bruce Miller when he tests his mettle over timber in the fourth race at 3 miles. The three-time Noel Laing winner could tangle with Won Wild Bird, Fieldview, Bold Quest and Volle Nolle, among others.

The fifth, a 2-mile amateur flat, sees a few timber stars get some extra conditioning. The venerable Salmo is back and looking to take one more crack at the Virginia Gold Cup for Irv Naylor and Desmond Fogarty. Former Grand National winner Private Attack goes out for Sportsman Hall and Alicia Murphy. Dubai Sunday, Chivite, Kamante and Jellyberry are also entered.

Riverdee Stable’s Dictina’s Boy, who romped last fall in his lone hurdle start at Callaway for Tom Voss heads the eighth, a 1-mile open flat. He’ll meet Class Bopper, who was runner-up to his stablemate Class Real Rock in the 3-year-old division. Water Cannon, the popular Maryland-based flat runner, is also entered.

Others scheduled to see action at Marlborough include Tatjana’s Salute, Devil’s Preacher, Tax Ruling and the aforementioned Planets Aligned.

Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point, Sunday, April 5. Northbrook, Pa.

Seven races on-tap, with a 3-mile open timber serving as the featured attraction. Irish Prince and Incomplete are cross-entered, and should they start they could meet Kilbreena, Mr. Liberator and Twill Do. The latter two, from Billy Meister’s barn, could be players on the path to the Maryland Hunt Cup.

In Pursuit Of Love, Bug Eyed Willy and Fieldview are also entered on the card.