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Ninepins a favorite in key steeplechase


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000

Steeplechasing's Tampa Bay area profile increased last year with a major race at Tampa Bay Downs and the Little Everglades debut in Dade City. The sport takes a step toward reclaiming national prominence Oct. 28 with the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase at Far Hill Race Meeting in New Jersey.

With a $250,000 purse, the 25/8-mile, 14-jump event will be the richest competition of the year. A major payday has been absent since the Breeders' Cup withdrew financial support in 1993.

Fourteen geldings out of 22 nominated horses have entered, highlighted by Rowdy Irishman, Ninepins (one of four Jonathan Sheppard entries) and Flat Top.

Sheppard, a Hall of Famer, is a popular choice to win his fourth Breeders' Cup Steeplechase because of Ninepins' win at the New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga on Aug. 24. Sheppard said the 13-year-old's seventh-place finish in the Oct. 6 Zeke Ferguson at Colonial Downs may be a more accurate indicator, however.

"He's actually been a horse, through the years, that's been a bit of a puzzle to me," he said. "He'll run a bang-up race one time, and the next time, for no particular good reason, he'll sometimes disappoint. In actual fact, that's kind of how he's coming up to the race this year.

"So we're hoping for a good rebound effort."

The venue seems to favor Ninepins. He has won two Grand Nationals over the Far Hills course. Sheppard won Breeders' Cups with Jimmy Larenzo in 1988 and Highland Bud in 1989 and '91.

OBS: Valid Dorothy, a 4-year-old mare in foal to 1998 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Awesome Again, was the top seller at the second preferred session of the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s 2000 fall mixed sale. She brought $125,000.

Group X purchased the Valid Appeal mare, which was consigned by Peacock Ridge and agent Becky Boyd.

The next-highest-priced mare was Miss Applause, a 9-year-old out of Fappiano.

Marilyn McMaster paid $87,000 for I'm Quite High, a 16-year-old mare by Quadratic in foal to Notebook. I'm Quite High is the dam of Florida Stallion Stakes winner Sweeping and stakes-placed I Aim High. The most expensive weanling was Hip No. 575, a filly by Storm Creek, bought by Paraneck Stable.

Hip No. 633, a colt from the first crop of Santa Anita Derby winner Indian Charlie, was purchased by Tampa Thoroughbreds for $80,000.

A total of 163 horses were purchased for $3,431,900. Last year 239 horses brought $4,630,400.

The average price of $21,055 was up 8.7 percent. The median price of $14,000 rose 7.7 percent. The buy-back percentage also rose, to 27.8 percent from 17.6.

NTRA POLL: Riboletta used a win in the Beldame to assume the top spot in the weekly National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll, as voted on by a media panel.

The 5-year-old mare jumped from fourth place. Fusaichi Pegasus, scratched from the Jockey Club Gold Cup, dropped to second, and Lemon Drop Kid tumbled to third after a fifth-place finish in the Gold Cup. Three-year-olds completed the top five. Tiznow, winner of the Goodwood Handicap, was fourth and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Albert the Great fifth.

NTRA 2-YEAR-OLD CHALLENGE: Nick Zito's A P Valentine joined six others in pursuit of the title with his victory Saturday in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. The series will award $250,000 to the owner of an eligible horse that wins any of seven designated races plus the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

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