AIKEN, S.C. — They're off and racing — over jumps!

The National Steeplechase Association's 2018 season opened at Ford Conger Field on March 24 with a six race card that drew 36 entries — a creditable number considering the horrible training conditions that prevailed in the Northeast during February and March.

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The season will continue with 29 more racing dates at traditional hunt meetings and eight carded for the pari-mutuel venues at Saratoga (six dates), Belmont Park and Parx Racing. The season is scheduled to conclude with the new Tryon International meeting at Columbus N.C. Nov. 17.

Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard won two races over jumps and one on the flat to claim top honors on opening day.

The West Grove, Pa. veteran sent out KMSN Stable's Able Archer to win the $20,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup, a 2-mile Ratings Handicap over National Fences that attracted a field of seven.

After letting Say No Maux set most of the pace, jockey Kieran Norris sent his charge after the leader to take the advantage and close out the win by 10-1/2 lengths over the Price-Richardson Stables' Indigo Heart with Michael Mitchell in the saddle for Camden, S.C.-based trainer Arch Kingsley, Jr.

Irvin S. Naylor's Borderline Decision took third money in the race that was run in 3 minutes, 40 seconds flat over a firm turf course.

After the race, Norris said, “I was afraid I had let the speed get too far ahead of me.” The rider remedied that situation when “I gave him a squeeze and he just picked it up and picked it up.”

Two races earlier, Sheppard and jockey Jack Doyle teamed up to win the $25,000 G.H. Bostwick Maiden Hurdle over National Fences with Riverdee Stable's Bite the Bit. Doyle and Bite the Bit were 2-1/2 lengths to the good of Eve Ledyard's Go Get the Bass in 3:34.60 for the two miles. Colvin (Greg) Ryan's Irish-bred Hoopla was third for jockey Norris.

Keri Brion, a highly regarded assistant in Sheppard's extensive flat racing and steeplechasing operation, shed her sport clothes for riding silks and won both races that were run on the flat. She captured the W.C. Jackson maiden training race with J. David Richardson's Kilronan for trainer Kingsley.

Brion came back one race later to win the James W. Maloney training race with KMSN's Inverness. They defeated seven rivals in the mile and a quarter contest that was run in 2:18.35 over a firm turf.

Aiken president Paul Sauerborn was obviously pleased with the spectator turnout when he told an interviewer, “It's pretty obvious we just have a house full. What we're facing — and it's a good problem to have — is how to get people in and get them really close to the races.”

Chasing Stats 2018

Here are the win-place-show standings for the equine and human awards the National Steeplechase Association. will present at the close of the 2018 season in late November.

Owners, Purse Money Won:

Riverdee Stable, $15,000

KMSN Stable, $12,000

Irvin S. Naylor, $11,000.

Trainers, Races Won:

Jonathan Sheppard, 2

Fenneka Bentley, 1

Katherine Neilson, 1

Trainers, Purse Money Won:

Jonathan Sheppard, $28,500

Katherine Neilson, $11,000

Fenneka Bentley, $9,000

Riders, Races Won:

Jack Doyle, 2

Gerard Gallaghan, 1

Kieran Norris, 1

Riders, Purse Money Won:

Jack Doyle, $24,000

Kieran Norris, $17,200

Gerard Galligan, @12,500

Horses, Purse Money Won:

Bite the Bit, $15,000

Able Archer, $12,000

Change of View, $9,000

Street Passage, $9,000

‘Chasing Schedule

March 31. 86th annual Carolina Cup Races, Camden, S.C. $325,000. $40,000 Life's Illusion (Fillies and Mares), $75,000 Carolina Cup (Novice), $150,000, Grade 1 Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup.

April 7. Georgia Steeplechase, Kingston, Ga., $100,000. $30,000 Georgia Cup (Ratings Handicap).

April 14. 72nd annual Tryon Block House Races, Columbus, N.C. $150,000, $40,000 Block House (Hurdle Handicap).

April 14. My Lady's Manor, $75,000. $30,000 My Lady's Manor Timber Stakes.

April 21. 116th annual Grand National Steeplechase, Butler, Md. $65,000, $30,000 Grand National Amateur Timber Stakes.

April 21. 98th annual Middleburg Spring Races, Middleburg, Va., $200,000. $75,000, Grade 2 Temple Gwathmey Hurdle Stakes.

April 28. 41st annual Foxfield Spring Races, Charlottesville, Va. $115,000. $30,000 Daniel van Clief Memorial (Allowance).

April 28. 122nd Maryland Hunt Cup, Glyndon, Md. $100,000 Maryland Hunt Cup Amateur Timber Stakes.

April 28. 23rd annual Queen's Cup Steeplechase, $150,000. $75,000 Queen's Cup (Novice).

May 5. 93rd running Virginia Gold Cup, The Plains, Va. $425,000. $40,000 Steeplethon Timber Stakes, $75,000, Grade 2 David Semmes Memorial Hurdle Stake, $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup Timber Stakes.

May 6. 40th annual Winterthur Races, Winterthur Del., $70,000. $40,000 Winterthur Bowl Timber Stakes.

May 12. 77th annual Iroquois Steeplechase, Nashville, Tenn. $525,000 plus $10,000 amateur bonus. $100,000 Marcellus Frost (Novice), $50,000 Margaret Curry Henley (Filly and Mare), $50,000 Mason Houghland (Timber), $200,000, Grade 1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois.

May 13. 26th annual Willowdale Steeplechase, Kennett Square, Pa. $100,000. $35,000 Willowdale Steeplechase Amateur Timber Stakes.

May 19. 88th annual Radnor Hunt Races,

Malvern, Pa. $190,000. $30,000 Radnor Hunt Cup (Timber), $50,000, Grade 3 National Hunt Cup.

May 26. 49th annual Fair Hill Spring Races, Fair Hill, Md. $180,000. $50,000 Iris Coggins Memorial (Fillies and Mares).

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