Flatterer, French Horse Top Breeders' Steeple Nominees

Posted: September 18, 1986

Flatterer, the three-time American steeplechase champion, and the French jumper Gacko head a list of 45 nominees to the $250,000 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase.

The race, the richest ever over fences, will be held Nov. 1 at the Fair Hill Race Course in Cecil County, Md. Fair Hill, just over the border from Chester County, Pa., is the only American steeplechase course with parimutuel betting.

Nominations to the first Breeders' Cup jump race closed earlier this week.

Flatterer, trained and partly owned by Jonathan Sheppard, is the richest American steeplechaser ever, with more than $350,000 earnings over fences.

At the Radnor Hunt Races in May, he carried 176 pounds to an easy, four- length victory. No American steeplechaser has ever carried as much weight to a victory.

The 7-year-old, who trains in Chester County, eclipsed the record of 173 pounds that he shared with Hall of Fame member Neji.

In his most recent start, Flatterer finished second in the $138,393 French Champion Hurdle on June 27 to Le Rheusois. Gacko, a promising young hurdler who went off as the race's favorite, finished third.

American steeplechase officials had hoped to attract Le Rheusois for the Fair Hill race and to the Colonial Cup, the traditional end of the steeplechasing season, at Camden, S.C., on Nov. 15. But the two-time Champion Hurdle winner is injured and will not make the trip to the United States.

The nominations list, however, indicates that Flatterer and Gacko should have plenty of competition for the first Breeders' Cup Steeplechase, which will be run over 2 3/8 miles and 16 artificial-brush fences on the attractive Fair Hill course.

Among the 25 nominees from the United States are Le Sauteur, winner of the New York Turf Writers Steeplechase Handicap at Saratoga Race Course last month, and Census, a multiple stakes winner.

Gacko topped 10 French nominees, and four horses each were nominated from England and Ireland. Two New Zealand horses also were nominated.

Very Promising, an English horse, has proved to be very promising, indeed. As the steeplechase season begins to gear up there, Very Promising is considered a leading jumper.

As occurs with most races, several of the nominees - most of whose owners paid $2,000 to get in the game - will not start.

The probable field will become clear on Oct. 20, when tentative entries will be taken. Owners who want their horses to run for the $125,000 first- place purse must pay $2,500 on that day, and another $2,500 when final entries are taken on Oct. 29.

With a 3 p.m. post time, the steeplechase will be televised by NBC-TV (Channel 3) as a part of its Breeders' Cup coverage from Santa Anita Park that day.

Fair Hill officials have tentatively scheduled four other live races and will simulcast at least some of the seven Breeders' Cup races from Santa Anita.

Fair Hill, built by the late William du Pont Jr., on his sprawling fox- hunting grounds, opened 52 years ago. It was, and continues to be, a faithful replica of an English steeplechase course.

Stephen Groat, Fair Hill's executive director, said yesterday that du Pont had dreamed of having the world's greatest steeplechase race at the Maryland course.

Now, the course will have the richest steeplechase and an international event - as the other Breeders' Cup races have become. In time, the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase might rival the Cheltenham Gold Cup, arguably the most important steeplechase in the world.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Fair Hill's daunting natural-brush fences led it to be described as America's Aintree, after the course near Liverpool, England, where the Grand National is run each year.

Like Britain's Aintree, the American Aintree was in danger of shutting down in the late 1970s. But both courses have survived, in part with the help of corporate sponsorship.

Groat said Fair Hill would use the Breeders' Cup races to develop long-term relationships with major Maryland corporations. So far, Fair Hill has lined up as many as 10 companies for sponsors.

Now owned by the state of Maryland, the Fair Hill course is undergoing a $600,000 modernization that is scheduled to be completed before Breeders' Cup day.

The major project is a rebuilding of the course's Aintree stands, which will contain between 4,000 and 5,000 reserved seats and 151 boxes that will hold up to 900 people. The course's capacity is about 20,000.

The European horses will be housed at the Fair Hill Training Center across Route 273 from the race course. At the Fasig-Tipton Inc. facility, they will be able to gallop over a wood-chip training track that had proved to be an excellent surface for preparing horses for turf races.

Fair Hill's mile grass course itself is in excellent shape, Groat said. The Breeders' Cup steeplechase field will cross in front of the stands three times in the course of the 2 3/8-mile distance.

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