Top horses to 62nd Block House Steeplechase

Published 2:50 pm Friday, April 18, 2008

With 27 entries, this week&squo;s 62nd Annual Carolina First Block House Steeplechase promises fine racing at Tryon this Saturday, the 19th of April.

Nine horses are slated (prior to any scratches) to go to the post in the featured $25,000 Block House with high weight of 156 pounds allocated to Calvin Houghland&squo;s Mon Villez who will be looking for his first victory of this 2008 season. A well-traveled 8-year-old who has total earnings of $128,750 for trainer Bruce Miller, Mon Villez has won the prestigious Noel Laing Sweepstakes the past three years in a row. However, the favorite&squo;s role could be awarded to one of two former winners of the three-year-old championship. Kevin Pallister&squo;s Pals Pride won the championship in 2002, but has been beset by injuries until this season. This year, the 9-yo has made a comeback, winning the Sandhills Cup at Southern Pines on April 5. The other winning &dquo;youngster,&dquo; Timber Bay&squo;s Underbidder, was the 3-yo champ in 2004 and has since been well-placed, winning four races and over $100,000 during the past four years.

Should these three veterans falter, another oldster in years, but only in his second year of racing, High Hope Stables&squo; Pleasant Pick could take home the trophy. Owned by Arch Kingsley and to be ridden by former Tryonite Greg Ryan, the 9-yo won last year&squo;s White Oak Cup here in Tryon and has a record of 2 wins, 3 seconds, and 4 thirds in 17 starts. Kingsley has also entered his Pick in the White Oak, but the horse must carry 155 pounds in that race versus 144 in the Block House.

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If Kingsley opts for the Block House, the favorite in the White Oak, a $15,000 claimer dedicated to Dr John Bradshaw, former Block House chairman, could be Dave Washer&squo;s Junood, a 5-yo who broke his maiden at Aiken, and has also notched a second triumph at Southern Pines. Three chasers with winning records: In Pursuit of Love, the high weight at 158, Gather No Moss, and Change Course will challenge.

Two maiden races (for non-winners), the $15,000 Quest and the $10,000 Cannon Harmon Memorial are also on the Tryon Card. As for the Quest, also named for the late, great Carter Brown, the win might go to Karen Gray&squo;s Cuse, the only horse in the race with second placings, four of them over this season and last. However, Remy Christine, a 4-yo filly with a fourth place finish at Atlanta, gets in for only 134 pounds; and JustAGallop, with lots of experience, but lugging lots of weight, will stake their claims.

A likely winner of the Harmon might be Karen Gray&squo;s Reigning Count, ridden by Will Haynes, who is on a two-win tear and still riding with an apprentice&squo;s &dquo;bug&dquo; (weight allowance). The Count has two seconds this season and a third last year. There are three other maidens with third-place finishes in the race, but the &dquo;long shot special&dquo; could be Sherry Hanscom&squo;s Impressive Return, a most impressive tall and leggy 4-yo with a long stride and only 140 pounds to carry, most of which will be veteran rider, Greg Ryan.

The last race(s) of the day will be the annual Foxhunter&squo;s Cup, divided into two sections this year; one for thoroughbreds, the other for non-thoroughbreds. These will be flat races for local riders at &dquo;about a mile.&dquo; See my &dquo;Peerless Predictions&dquo; above or better still; come to the races and buy a program. You will be glad you did.

With all these fine entries, and the meeting a near-sellout, Race Chairman Warren Rauhofer is most optimistic. &dquo;We are looking for great racing,&dquo; predicts the captain of the course, who also tells us that &dquo;the turf this year is just beautiful.&dquo;