Picks & Preview for Aiken Steeplechase

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Cross Border makes his hurdle debut Saturday at Aiken.
Tod Marks photo

Back in the Carolinas. It’s been awhile, and it must be autumn (don’t say fall around the steeplechase people) because the NSA circuit goes south for Saturday’s Aiken Steeplechase in Aiken, S.C. It’ll be the second trip around the new course used in March for the first time, and the first fall meet in town since 2019.

Five races, solid purses and good opportunities are the rule for a 1 p.m. post time. Learn more at aikensteeplechase.com. Flat owner Jordan Wycoff, whose father-in-law Frank Mullins is the meet chairman, is represented all over the card.

The TIHR handicappers try to find some more winners. Last week at the International Gold Cup, everybody had Potus, but Sean added Andi’amu and Molly Fantasy while Tom countered with Bodes Well and Andi’amu, and Joe could only muster Bodes Well. The scoreboard reads Joe 12, Sean 11, Tom 9.

First race. Training flat going 1 1/4 miles. Five runners, perhaps prepping for a late-season jump start, tackle the opener. Be Yourself won two back at Delaware Park. Pedigree fans will love Secret Soulmate’s chances as a son of Perfect Soul and the Kingmambo mare Sky Beam. The $5,000 claim at Charles Town should love jump racing. Auction Kingdom exits a win at Laurel July 31, where he was claimed. Magical Charm looks to get sorted out toward the end of a long season.

Joe: Auction Kingdom, Be Yourself, Magical Charm.
Sean: Auction Kingdom, Be Yourself, Secret Soulmate. 
Tom: Auction Kingdom, Kiyomori, Be Yourself.

Second race. $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Nine run in this, all American-breds which goes to show that steeplechase people don’t import many maiden claimers. You want form? Or promise? Hero’s Return has lost all nine hurdle starts, all in tougher company than this. Trainer Mark Beecher adds blinkers. Thomond Park (0-for-6 going back to 2020) exits a third at Foxfield. Twentyoneguns was sixth in that Foxfield race. Wycoff is represented by two first-timers – 3-year-old fillies Clara Belle and Shaolin. Hail To The Chief finished second a week ago at the Gold Cup meet.

Joe: Hero’s Return, Hail To The Chief, Thomond Park.
Sean: Hail To The Chief, Royale, Hero’s Return. 
Tom: Hail to the Chief, Hero’s Return, Thomond Park.

Third race. $20,000 handicap hurdle (110 and below) going 2 3/8 miles. Hooray, all the races at Aiken aren’t the same distance. Seven clash in this, all winners of one except two-time winner Jump Ship. The 10-year-old won at Tryon in April and has been fourth in his last three. Pleasecallmeback figures, off a second at Foxfield (in deep going). Shaka keeps running a little better and will be happy to get away from Fast Vision. Criticize won at Aiken in March and makes the 12th start (flat and jump) of his season. Hard Game won the maiden claimer at Foxfield.

Joe: Shaka, Pleasecallmeback, Jump Ship.
Sean: Pleasecallmeback, Seb’s Welcome, Shaka.
Tom: Pleasecallmeback, Shaka, Soramond.

Fourth race. $25,000 filly/mare maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Seven line up here, six coming out of the same race won by Saigon in the soft ground at Foxfield. Eponine was second there, while making up ground. Ocean Air was third, Met In Miami fourth. Fits The Jill might have won, or at least been second, had she not lost Graham Watters at the last fence in that race. She gets another chance at Aiken.

Joe: Fits The Jill, Eponine, Ocean Air.
Sean: Fits The Jill, Eponine, Ocean Air.
Tom: Fits the Jill, Eponine, Ocean Air.

Fifth race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Eight, five of them first-timers, tangle in the finale. Discussion starts with Cross Border, a multiple graded stakes winner and millionaire on the turf. The 8-year-old English Channel gelding makes his hurdle debut for Three Diamonds Farm, Keri Brion and jockey Parker Hendriks. There’s no doubting his fitness off a busy flat campaign including a third in the John Forbes at Far Hills, or his quality. Can he run and jump? Stablemates Hilliard and Topic Changer, both two-time flat winners, make their jump debuts as well. It’s not the toughest spot. Beat Le Bon, a four-time winner on the flat in England, tries to get untracked after falling at Foxfield. He was rank early there so if he settles at all he might forget to stop. In April 2021, he finished third behind Pogo, a Group 2 winner at Newmarket in October and a pre-entry for the Breeders’ Cup Mile next week. Six-time flat winner Honor Up was third at Colonial and leads the field with four jump starts.

Joe: Cross Border, Honor Up, Beat Le Bon.
Sean: Cross Border, Lumberjack, Beat Le Bon.
Tom: Beat Le Bon, Cross Border, Hilliard.

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