Top horses to Block House

Published 1:16 pm Friday, April 17, 2009

With 26 solid entries in jumping races, eight local horses in amateur flat races, and simply gorgeous weather now … and promised for race day … this Saturday&39;s 63rd running of the Block House Steeplechase should give race fans great racing and a fine day in the country here in Tryon.

&bsp;The featured $25,000 Carolina First Block House should have a fairly smallish field of five horses to meet the starter&39;s flag; this assuring plentious racing room for the better horses. High weight of 158 pounds has been assigned to the favored Mixed Up, winner of the Imperial Cup at Aiken and a purse of $27,000, second highest earnings thus far in the young season. Owned by William Pape, a highly successful owner every season, and trained by the all-time champion trainer, Jonathan Sheppard, the ten year old bay has won $484,730 and nine races during his five years of campaigning, most of them when ridden by jockey Danielle Hodsdon.

Charming off-course, but a tough competitor in the race field with 85 career wins, the winsome Ms. Hodsdon will be back aboard Mixed Up Saturday.

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Contesting the Block House favorite will be four other winning chasers, among them owner-trainer Linda Klein&39;s Orchid Princess, the filly/mare champion of 2006 who will be ridden by Richard Spate, and Cherry Knoll Farm&39;s Dalucci, trained by Janet Elliot, and who ran second in the Sandhills Cup two weeks ago at Southern Pines. Both challengers will carry eight pounds less than the favorite.

&bsp;The second-featured race will be a $15,000 claiming race with a field of eight experienced leapers. The high-weight, carrying 148 pounds, will be Calvin Houghland&39;s Bow Strada, trained by Bruce Miller and ridden by Daniele Hodsdon. This will be the twelve year-old&39;s first outing this year, but the chestnut gelding won $42,050 with two wins last season. Another two-time winner is Little Bay Stable&39;s Pal&39;s Pride, trained by Kevin Pallister and a winner of $44,506 in 2008. The bay gelding, now ten, was the three year-old champion in 2002; but, gets in this race with a mere 139 pounds because his jockey, Darren Nagle, is still rated as an apprentice.

&bsp;However, two other former Block House winners will be contesting the co-favorites. Many will remember Linda Klein&39;s Fabi&39;s Legacy, who won this race last yeat after unseating his rider prior to the start and galloping off to a complete circuit of the course before being caught. The bay, still finding plenty of run remaining, then won the race with a wire to wire victory by six and 3/4 lengths. Look for more drama with this horse and more of the same from Katherine McKenna&39;s River Bed, who won the 2007 Block House by no less than ten and a half. Out last season with injuries, the twelve year-old bay earned more than $80,000 in 2006 and 2007.

&bsp;The first two races on the card will be maiden (non-winners) races with mostly youngsters, but also with a few older runners, running. The first race, a $15,000 maiden allowance will include seven entrys, of whom five will be starting their first race. The other two entrys have more experience.&bsp; Karen Gray&39;s BK Double Jade has already been out twice this year, garnering a second and a third with earnings of $3,300, while trainer Michael Berryman has sent out Honour Emblem three times , earning $3,750. It would seem that this opening contest is strictly a toss-up. &bsp;

The second race, the Cannon Harmon Memorial, a $10,000 maiden claimer with six horses going postward, shows a little more form. All but two have been to the races this season, while Sword of Dubai, running for Kathereine McKenna, and English Dancer, schooled by Mike Berryman, have both finished third in earlier starts. This one is just as hard to call as the first. Your best bet is to let your wife select the most handsome rider.&bsp; &bsp;

&bsp;The Block House meeting will again be offering flat races with local, amateur riders going to the post after the first four steeplechases. The first of the two will be restricted to thoroughbreds with Randi Hogan&39;s Seven Sails, Jordan Hicks&39; Tiger Lion (now that&39;s&bsp; a name for you !!), and Erin Gambrell&39;s Deadly vying for the $2,000 purse. The second, for non-thoroughbreds, has five entrys: Randi Hogan aboard A.J., Erin Gambrell riding Rock, Libby and Robert Arnold with Pal and Best, and Amanda Bilhazy on Thirsty Lil, also competing for fame and $2,000.

This year&39;s Block House is dedicated to long-time race Chairman Tom Mosca, who retired after the 2006 race (see front page). Tom, wife Lorraine, and son Tommy put their all into the Block House Steeplechase for many years, setting a standard for all of us to follow.