Now it's really fall. The steeplechase season heads south to Aiken, S.C. Saturday in the annual shift to warmer climes and for the Aiken Fall Races. The card starts at 1 p.m. and includes six races - five over hurdles and one on the flat.
Call the one-meet Saturday a bit a respite from the back-to-back crescendos at Far Hills Oct. 15 and the International Gold Cup Oct. 22. Next month, the season wraps up with stops at Montpelier and Callaway Gardens Nov. 5, the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Nov. 6 and the Colonial Cup Nov. 19. Then that's it until March. The jockeys' race looks like it could be fun. Kieran Norris (12 wins) suddenly leads the way over Ross Geraghty (10) and Sean McDermott (nine). They'll all be in action at Aiken.
The TIHR handicapping race has taken a decided turn, after back-to-back strong weekends from Sean who had four winners at Far Hills and three at the International Gold Cup (all on the flat - New Saloon, Hoppala and Cryptos' Holiday). Joe (Cryptos' Holiday) had one at the Gold Cup while Tom took the collar at 0-for-10. Sean leads with 11 wins (from 43 races). Joe has nine and Tom has eight. There's still time.
Aiken Fall Races
First race. $20,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. A field of nine including first-timers N. B. A. Money, Bugle Blues and Really Ready. Strongbox exits the always-tough Far Hills maiden while Massachusetts-bred Misfortune tries to keep trainer Doug Fout's strong season going and Khafayya should improve off a run at Virginia Fall. River Rush won five times and made $318,288 on the flat.
Sean: Strongbox, Travel True, Khafayya.
Joe: Khafayya, Strongbox, Bugle Blues.
Tom: Khafayya, Strongbox, Travel True.
Second race. $15,000 maiden claiming ($15,000-$10,000) hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. Eight face the flag here and range from first-timer Quiet Virtue to seventh-timer Perkup. Four-year-old filly Quiet Virtue won going 5 1/2 furlongs on the dirt at Penn National in June. Green Lazer placed in two tries (one at Aiken) in 2014, and two more in 2015. Most recently, he was third at Virginia Fall.
Sean: Green Lazer, Perkup, Sir Dream A Lot.
Joe: Green Lazer, Quiet Virtue, Ludicrous Speed.
Tom: Green Lazer, Perkup, Boston Accent.
Third race. $15,000 maiden claiming ($15,000-$10,000) hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. Seven go in this one. They've all run. Longing To Travel, from the on-a-roll barn of Neil Morris, comes off a second at Virginia Fall. Hard Spun Lover was second at a big price at Fair Hill in May. Coastal Moon drops from the maiden special at Far Hills to Aiken's maiden claimer. Glasgow Gailes got run off the course at the first fence at Foxfield in September, but circled back to get a school.
Sean: Hard Spun Lover, Longing To Travel, Ohthgift.
Joe: Longing To Travel, Glasgow Gailes, Ohthgift.
Tom: Longing To Travel, A Zoo Society, Hard Spun Lover.
Fourth race. $20,000 maiden hurdle for fillies/mares going 2 1/4 miles. This one drew seven including the well-named rookie Pram, a daughter of Stroll and My Papoose, from Bill Pape and Jonathan Sheppard. Two 3-year-old daughters of Etched are in the field, as is Saratoga claim Belle Et Bete (a daughter of Big Bad Bob, the sire of Grade 1 winner Bob Le Beau). Gigi Lazenby and Doug Fout are represented by Henrietta's Affair, a 5-year-old Henrythenavigator mare, and 4-year-old filly Zydeco Cha Cha.
Sean: Pram, Belle Et Bete, Serilda.
Joe: Belle Et Bete, Pram, Henrietta's Affair.
Tom: Pram, Belle Et Bete, Henrietta's Affair.
Fifth race. $20,000 handicap hurdle (115-95) going 2 1/4 miles. Nine go in here headed by highweights Mr. Lickety (a perfect 3-for-3 at Aiken) and 2016 English import Polstar. Making his American debut, the latter has won five times over hurdles.
Sean: Devil's Wrangler, Polstar, Elusive Evening.
Joe: Mr. Lickety, Devil's Wrangler, Elusive Evening.
Tom: Stormy Alex, Polstar, Aquies.
Sixth race. Training flat going 1 1/4 miles. Eight line up here and arrive from all directions with most recent starts at Laurel, Charles Town, Newmarket, Tryon, Far Hills and Belterra Park. A $150,000 purchase as a 2-year-old last year, Gin Tizz (by Tizway) makes his second training flat appearance of the fall for trainer Peter Pugh while Arch Kingsley counters with Rockin' Ben, a New York-bred first-time starter by Here Comes Ben. Filly/mare hurdler The Grange tries to get her career back on track, literally, after refusing to start at Far Hills.
Sean: Jarir, The Grange, Sackett.
Joe: Jarir, Waves And Tides, The Grange.
Tom: Jarir, The Grange, Rockin' Ben.