And it comes down to this. The final meet on the final weekend of the steeplechase season. The Aiken Steeplechase pulls the curtain with a five-race card worth $130,000, including the featured $35,000 Holiday Cup for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Most of the titles are done and dusted. Irv Naylor secured the owner’s title a month ago. With 32 wins, trainer Leslie Young dominated the win column for her second straight title while Jack Fisher clinched the money-won title and could go over $1 million with a win by Quick Master. Merry Maker wrapped up the earnings title at Far Hills. Harrison Beswick takes one last punch at the jockey title. In search of his first, Beswick trails 2021 champion Graham Watters by three wins. Beswick rides five races. Watters counters with four.
As for the TIHR Handicappers, Joe took the race by the scruff with four wins (and a second) at Charleston. Joe tabbed Prophet’s Voice, Seismic Wave, Lightning Ridge and Fingal to reach 19 wins for the fall season. Tom nabbed Fingal (a unanimous pick) while Sean scored with Seismic Wave and Fingal. Joe leads Sean by four and Tom by five. Time for the understudies to sweep the card and topple the champion. A case of Industrial Arts’ Wrench hangs in the balance.
You can watch via livestream on the NSA website. https://nationalsteeplechase.com/live-streaming/
First race. The Calico Creek. Sponsored by WOW Equine Services. $20,000. Maiden claiming hurdle. 2 1/8 miles. Seven search for winter rent checks in the opener. Absam finished second at Montpelier. Julie Gomena adds blinkers to Thaleeq, fifth at Great Meadow. Secret Soulmate wheels back in six days from a runner-up effort at Charleston. Sleight Of Hand and Bellarmine Hall have hit the board this year. Beswick rides Absam and Watters picks up Bellarmine Hall.
- Joe: Sleight Of Hand, Absam, Bellarmine Hall.
- Sean: Absam, Sleight Of Hand, Secret Soulmate.
- Tom: Bellarmine Hall, Sleight Of Hand, Secret Soulmate.
Second race. The Cathedral Aisle. Sponsored by Aiken County Farm Supply. $25,000. Ratings (115) handicap. 2 3/8 miles. Deep race with Colonial Downs winner Tease And Seize, hard-hitting Eye Of Gunfighter, debut winner Union Gen. George and the Young-trained Arrowheart and Oscar Winner. Watters returns on Callaway maiden claimer winner Agitare while Beswick picks up Vincent Van Gogo.
- Joe: Union Gen. George, Tease And Seize, Wicked West.
- Sean: Wicked West, Arrowheart, Tease And Seize.
- Tom: Wicked West, Tease And Seize, Union Gen. George.
Third race. The Juac Hallow. Sponsored by Aiken Regional Medical Centers. $20,000. Maiden starter hurdle. 2 1/8 miles. One of the better conditions added to the schedule recently, this starter maiden attracts a tough group. Quick Master finished second in the straight maiden at Great Meadow. Evie’s Prince lost Beswick while in contention late at Montpelier. Southpaw Mike takes on elders after a promising debut against 3-year-olds at Far Hills. Samui Sunset has produced two solid runs in both hurdle starts this fall. Beswick is live on Evie’s Prince and Watters is live on Quick Master.
- Joe: Quick Master, Samui Sunset, Southpaw Mike.
- Sean: Evie’s Prince, Quick Master, Southpaw Mike.
- Tom: Southpaw Mike, Quick Master, Urban Myth.
Fourth race. The Thomas Hitchcock. Sponsored by Honda Cars of Aiken. $30,000. Maiden hurdle. 2 1/8 miles. Lastchance to graduate. Quality group lines up for the final maiden race of the year. Macheeda, Travesuras, Reassured, Riptide Rock, Just Another One and Active Duty sport on-the-board finishes while Kenilworth King, Giantsbane, Kitten Around and All Roses add to the broth. Beswick picks up Giantsbane while Watters returns on Riptide Rock.
- Joe: Reassured, Travesuras, Active Duty.
- Sean: Travesuras, Reasssured, Just Another One.
- Tom: Active Duty, Kenilworth King, Macheeda.
Fifth race. The Holiday Cup. Sponsored by Budweiser. $35,000. Sport of Kings 3 and 4-year-old hurdle stakes. Just four, but a strong four, converge on the finale. Rampoldi Plan was awesome in the spring, can he rediscover that form? Total Joy was awesome at Radnor and Shawan before falling at Far Hills. Our Boy Wes finished second behind Kyogo in the 3-year-old stakes at Far Hills. Kiyomori has produced two solid efforts this fall. Beswick takes the return call on the Todd Wyatt trainee. Watters watches, in a celebratory mood or, depending on the first four, in a pensive mood.
- Joe: Kiyomori, Total Joy, Rampoldi Plan.
- Sean: Total Joy, Kiyomori, Rampoldi Plan.
- Tom: Our Boy Wes, Kiyomori, Total Joy.