Saving a Season 2.0: NSA adjusts spring schedule

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National Steeplechase Association spring season – take two. Or three. Four? Eight? Nobody knows right now as jump racing, the Thoroughbred industry and the world are in uncharted territory with the effects of Covid-19.

In an abbreviated condition book released to horsemen March 25, the NSA plans on six stops in late May and June.

  • May 30: Middleburg Spring Races in Middleburg, Va.
  • June 6: Fair Hill Races at Shawan Downs in Hunt Valley, Md.
  • June 13: Foxfield Races in Charlottesville, Va.
  • June 14: Cheshire Point-to-Point in Unionville, Pa. (one NSA race as part of point-to-point card, perhaps two).
  • June 20: Virginia Gold Cup in The Plains, Va.
  • June 27: Iroquois Steeplechase in Nashville, Tenn.

The schedule reflects the cancelation of nine spring meets – Aiken March 21, the Carolina Cup March 28, Tryon Block House April 11, My Lady’s Manor April 11, Grand National April 18, Maryland Hunt Cup April 25, Queen’s Cup April 25, Willowdale Steeplechase May 9 and Radnor Hunt Races May 17.

Total purses reach $1,165,000 for 35 individual races (pending splits or other changes based on entries and interest) with Iroquois leading the way at $410,000.

Director of racing Bill Gallo called the racing program the best case scenario given the circumstances. NSA meets depend on sponsorship and ticket sales for revenue, so holding a race day without spectators (the way some flat tracks with pari-mutuel wagering have done) is not feasible.

“It’s a good schedule, it’s tentative, but without a plan we would have to fold our cards completely,” Gallo said. “I hope the horsemen have a sense of hope and purpose now and we work toward the goal of getting lucky and being prepared to start the season on May 30. I think everyone understands.”

Individual race meets and the NSA will consult local, state and national rules and medical guidance as they relate to public events.

“This is what we have at the moment,” Gallo said. “If we get lucky, we get an all-clear and can make it happen we will and hopefully there’s some enthusiasm to support outdoor events like ours. We may know more as we get further along and if we didn’t do this we had no chance of a season.”

 Middleburg, originally set for April 18, hopes to run for the 100th time and offers $255,000 in purses headlined by the $100,000 Temple Gwathmey hurdle stakes and the $30,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup timber stakes.

The Fair Hill course was rebuilt last year so unavailable for 2020, but the meet gets purse money from Maryland’s slots revenue and planned to run at Laurel Park (while Maryland racing moved to Pimlico for the Preakness meet) May 23. Laurel likely won’t be available now, as horses are staying there, so Shawan Downs became an option June 6. The meet includes the $50,000 Valentine Memorial handicap hurdle.

Foxfield (normally in late April) looks to card its traditional spring meet June 13 with $75,000 in total purses including a $25,000 maiden hurdle. Cheshire’s point-to-point card (typically in March) shifts to June 14 and will include the Paddy Neilson Memorial timber race for amateur apprentice jockeys (an NSA race).

Virginia Gold Cup traditionally races on the first Saturday in May, lending a Kentucky Derby flair to a steeplechase venue. Neither happens that day now, but the Gold Cup moved its $260,000 meet to June 20. The card includes the $75,000 David Semmes Memorial over hurdles and the $75,000 Gold Cup timber stakes (run for the 95th time).

Racing concludes with the Iroquois (usually the Saturday between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness) and its lucrative card June 27. The $150,000 Iroquois usually features championship-level horses while stakes are also offered for fillies/mares over hurdles, novice hurdlers and handicappers.