The Pause That Refreshes

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After several action-packed race meets, the NSA circuit takes a much-needed break this weekend and gears up for the final two dates of the year: the Colonial Cup Nov. 16 in Camden, S.C., and the inaugural Palm Beach Steeplechase in Florida Nov. 29. Several divisional championships hang in the balance as the season enters its final weeks. With five races and $240,000 in purses up for grabs at Camden, plus five races and $200,000 more at Palm Beach, things figure to go right down to the wire. Here's a look into the current standings.

TRAINER (Money Won)
Jack Fisher salted away this honor long ago, but he reached an unprecedented milestone Saturday at Callaway Gardens as he became the first trainer in NSA history to earn $1 million in a season when Shiny Emblem won the opener. Fisher enters the penultimate weekend at the Colonial Cup with $1,031,267 and will have several chances to add to his record, including champion Good Night Shirt's quest for a repeat in the Grade I, $150,000 feature.

Fisher's run at history gathered steam early in the fall, as he took the season's first four stakes. Quem Se Atreve won the Belle Meade at Kentucky Downs, Seer won the Monmouth County at Monmouth Park, Good Night Shirt won the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park and Monte Bianco won the Chronicle Cup timber stakes at Virginia Fall. The diversity of those horses, along with the contributions of maidens and allowance horses in the barn, are a primary reason why Fisher made history this season. Not that he was expecting it going in.

"Last year I was close ($916,628) but I lost some horses this year, so I wasn't thinking about it. I just figured if I did it, I did it," Fisher said. "It's a great honor, but it's not something I went into the year looking to accomplish. It's the first time it's ever happened, and I've been around the sport for a long time, so it's nice to get it done."

Fisher isn't the only trainer enjoying a stellar 2008. Jonathan Sheppard ($708,956) and Tom Voss ($657,028) have both enjoyed considerable success all season and should be well represented at Camden and Palm Beach.
The battle for winningest trainer figures to go down to the last weekend — if not the last race. Fisher has racked up 23 victories on the year and holds a tenuous one-win lead over Voss. Sheppard (16) and Sanna Hendriks (15) battle for third.
The Maryland-based Fisher noted he won't be represented in the novice stakes at Palm Beach, but he'll be in sunny Florida to soak up some ambiance and try for his fourth title in six years.

"(Owner) Gil Johnston called me and said I could stay at her house. It's cold here and it's warm down there. Yeah, I'll be going," Fisher said. "I've got a few maidens to head down there with and maybe a few others as well. It would be nice to win the title again, but I think it would be pretty cool to tie with Tom too."

Four-time champion Voss last won the crown in 2002.

Xavier Aizpuru stands a good chance to lock up his second consecutive jockey championship at the upcoming Colonial Cup. Aizpuru has 20 wins (from only 76 mounts) on the season, six more than his closest pursuer Jody Petty, the 2005 riding champ. Petty's 14 have him in second but his position is far from comfortable, as five jockeys sit within four victories, including two-time champion Matt McCarron who is third with 13 wins. Willie Dowling (12), Padge Whelan (11), Paddy Young (10) and Danielle Hodsdon (10) will all have live mounts the final two weekends and could make a late move up the leaderboard.
HORSE (Money Won)
Good Night Shirt's victory in the Grand National Oct. 18 at Far Hills sealed his second consecutive earnings championship and also eclipsed the single-season record he set last year. Perfect in four Grade I starts this year (the Georgia Cup, Iroquois, Lonesome Glory and Grand National) Good Night Shirt has earned $395,520 in 2008 look to add to his record — and his legend — in the Colonial Cup, a race he won in en route to an Eclipse Award in 2007.
Good Night Shirt, a 7-year-old son of Concern trained by Fisher for Sonny Via, has earned $844,493 over jumps, good for third on the all-time list of American steeplechasers. He streaks into Camden on the heels of five consecutive Grade I wins, giving him seven for his career.

"He came out of the Grand National in great shape and we're all looking forward to the Colonial Cup," Fisher said. "I've just been taking it easy on him and he just keeps getting better and better and it would be great to win the Colonial Cup two years in a row."

Arcadia Stable's Bubble Economy has already clinched his second timber championship on the back of victories in the Virginia and International Gold Cups, but the 2004 champion has one more goal remaining this year. With $98,250 in earnings, the 9-year-old stands just $3,750 shy of the single-season mark of $102,000 set by Irish Prince in 2007. Bubble Economy came out of the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, where he refused at the third fence, none the worse for wear and will go for the record in a $20,000 open race at the Colonial Cup.

"He came out of the race fine, how could he not? He only ran a half-mile," Fisher joked. "He's had a good year and won some big races for us and it would be nice to get the timber record, so we'll send him down to Camden and go for it."
The Price Of Love has clinched the novice hurdle title, which goes to the highest earning horse that started 2008 as a maiden. Though the Grade I, $100,000 Palm Beach Stakes remains a major goal on the novice schedule, the race doesn't figure to attract anyone within shouting distance of The Price Of Love's $122,792 total.

Class Shadow, Seer and Dynaski — second, third and fifth in the standings, respectively — are injured and will be on the sidelines for final two fall stops, while trainer Jimmy Day has deemed that Spy In The Sky — fourth in the standings — is "on vacation", leaving The Price Of Love alone at the top.

Bill Pape's 5-year-old is a deserving winner. The son of Prenup, co-bred by Pape and Sheppard, progressed through the ranks this season after opening 2008 with a win at Camden in March. After running second in a Middleburg allowance and a distant third in the Grade II National Hunt Cup at Radnor, The Price Of Love won a pair of novice stakes — the Jonathan Kiser and Mickey Walsh — at Saratoga. After running a sub-par fifth over the parched Monmouth turf in the Monmouth County Sept. 20 The Price Of Love rebounded last weekend, running third in the Grade I AFLAC Championship at Callaway.

Mede Cahaba Stable's Class Shadow is the clubhouse leader for year-end honors, but the talented 4-year-old injured a suspensory in her win over rival Guelph in the Peapack at Far Hills and she'll finish the year with $88,068 for trainer Lilith Boucher. Guelph, who ran second in the Peapack but defeated Class Shadow in the Henley at Nashville and the Valentine at Fair Hill, returned last weekend to win the Crown Royal Stakes at Callaway Gardens and the score put the 2005 champion in position to wrestle the title away from Class Shadow. The Fields Stable's 7-year-old sits only $9,644 behind and the 2005 champion could pass Class Shadow win a win in a $25,000 stakes at Palm Beach, should Tom Voss elect to send her south on the season's final weekend.
The $25,000 Raymond G. Woolfe Memorial is a supporting feature to the Colonial Cup and the race will go a long way in determining the 3-year-old champion. Mede Cahaba's Class Real Rock looms the odds-on choice after his win in the Gladstone at Far Hills. His $30,500 more than doubles his closest pursuer Orebanks ($15,000) and a win would clinch the title.

Orebanks, an impressive maiden winner at Middleburg who was a hard-luck second in the Gladstone, would still fall $500 short of the leader even if he wins the Woolfe and Class Real Rock doesn't pick up a check. The wild card in the equation is a $25,000 allowance for 3-year-olds at Palm Beach, which could potentially lure the top players if the championship still lies in the balance.

Miss Crown ($9,400) and Class Bopper ($9,000) are also both nominated to the Woolfe and have shown talent in their brief hurdle careers.

The Colonial Cup drew seven early nominations, with others perhaps scared off by the daunting presence of Good Night Shirt. The biggest threat to the champion figures to be Peggy Steinman's Dark Equation, who won the Grade I New York Turf Writers this summer at Saratoga. The 7-year-old son of Polish Numbers ran a troubled fifth to Good Night Shirt in the Grade I Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park Sept. 21 but signaled his readiness for the Colonial Cup with an impressive training flat score last weekend at Montpelier for Doug Fout.

Polaris Stable's Preemptive Strike returned this fall from a leg injury that knocked him out of action for seven months and the speedster has looked good in both his starts. He was third, moved up to second, in the Appleton at Far Hills and then was a bang-up third to Triple Dip last weekend in the Noel Laing at Montpelier. His early speed is always dangerous and the Sanna Hendriks-trainee has shown in the past he can compete on the sport's biggest stage.

Best Attack ran third in the Grand National for the second year in a row for Sally Radcliffe and Bruce Miller and the 7-year-old son of Bahri looks poised to deliver on the promise he has shown over the past two years.

Triple Dip won the Laing for Joseph Henderson and Jimmy Day, charging from sixth to just prevail over Orison by a nose. Day indicated he'll pass on the Colonial Cup, citing the grim prospect of taking on Good Night Shirt at level weights (156 pounds).

Justin Carthy's Dalucci has progressed in three U.S. starts since being imported from his native Ireland. Now in the care of U.S. trainer Janet Elliot, he ran sixth in the Lonesome Glory, fifth in the Grand National and was fourth last weekend in the Laing.

Pleasant Pick, winless in six 2008 starts for High Hope Stable and Arch Kingsley, rounds out the early nominations for the 2 3/4-mile Colonial Cup.

All horses will carry 156 pounds.