Steeplechasers goes to Palm Beach for finale

Updated: November 28, 2008, 7:12 PM ET
By Joe Clancy | Special to ESPN.com

American steeplechasing's 2008 season comes to a grand finale Saturday with the renewal of the Palm Beach Steeplechase in Wellington, Fla. Host to jump races four times in the 1980s, the course at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center comes back to life with five races and total prize money of $200,000.

The headliner, the $75,000 Palm Beach Stakes, pits a mixed bag of quality steeplechasers including top mare Guelph, major stakes winners Dr. Bloomer and Orison, Irish invaders Dalucci and Ouninpohja. Owned by The Fields Stable and trained in Maryland by Tom Voss, Guelph must finish first or second to claim the 2008 National Steeplechase Association filly/mare championship.

Guelph trails the idle Class Shadow by $9,645 in the filly/mare earnings race this year. The mare carries 144 pounds including regular jockey Padge Whelan. Guelph won the filly/mare title back in 2005 and has garnered three stakes victories this year.

Co-owner and breeder Mimi Voss hopes for a good effort from the daughter of Sky Classic.

"She deserves to go out with a championship. She raced against Class Shadow three times and won twice, and all three times she was giving away a lot of weight," said Voss, who co-owns the daughter of Sky Classic with Betty and Laddie Merck. "It would be the perfect ending to her career and it would be nice to see her go out on top."

The Mercks have a home in nearby Palm Beach, so a victory would be a popular one, though Guelph will have to work to defeat a quality field in the 2 1/4-mile, 11-fence race.

Calvin Houghland's Dr. Bloomer ran away with the AFLAC U.S. Championship Novice Stakes at Callaway Gardens Nov. 1 and is the likely pacemaker Saturday. The 7-year-old's best efforts have resulted in two stakes wins this year while he has struggled at times as well. Trained in Pennsylvania by Jonathan Sheppard, Dr. Bloomer will be ridden by Robbie Walsh as the 154-pound highweight.

EMO Stable's Orison nearly salvaged his 2008 when he was second (beaten a nose) in the Noel Laing Stakes at Montpelier, Va. Nov. 1. The 6-year-old chestnut, trained in Virginia by Doug Fout, should get plenty of pace to sit behind though he will have to adapt to a short stretch at Palm Beach. Matt McCarron rides at 146 pounds.

The field for the feature (with owner, trainer, jockey) in post position order: Dalucci (Justin Carthy, Janet Elliot, Xavier Aizpuru), Dr. Bloomer (Calvin Houghland, Jonathan Sheppard, Robbie Walsh), Orison (EMO Stable, Doug Fout, Matt McCarron), Guelph (The Fields Stable, Tom Voss, Padge Whelan), Baby League (Bill Pape, Jonathan Sheppard, Danielle Hodsdon), Ouninpohja (Horses First Racing, Tom Voss, rider to be named).

Beyond the stakes, the day will help crown the NSA trainer champion as Jack Fisher (25 wins) holds a slim lead on Tom Voss (22). Voss runs six horses in four races on the card while Fisher has three horses in two races. Aizpuru has already wrapped up the jockey championship with 21 wins, seven more than Jody Petty.

Post time at Palm Beach is 1:30 p.m. with the feature set as the fifth race.

NOTES: Major flat-racing owner Ken Ramsey will be represented by Slip Away, who goes for his fifth win of the season in the day's fourth race . . . Major turf stakes winner Dreadnaught runs in the third race, a $30,000 optional claiming hurdle, for the Voss barn.