Aiken Kicks off NSA Season

© Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

The National Steeplechase Association Spring campaign gets underway on Saturday after a four-month hiatus with a six-race card worth $140,000 in South Carolina at Aiken’s showcase racecourse on Richland Avenue.

The meet is the first of 16 worth $2.6 across seven states on the NSA Spring calendar, which runs through May 18.

2024 marks the third straight year that the season will begin at the Aiken Steeplechase Association’s sparkling new facility. First run in 1930, the Aiken Races have ushered in the year since the Little Everglades in Dade City, Fla., ended its run in 2009.

A field of five is expected for the featured $35,000 Imperial Cup, a sweepstakes race for horses who have never won an open stake. Heading the lineup is Upland Flats Racing’s West Newton, who defeated a strong field in the Daniel Van Clief Memorial (a 130 ratings handicap) at Foxfield last April and concluded the campaign with a brilliant second to Snap Decision, beaten just three lengths, in the G2 Zeke Ferguson at the International Gold Cup Races. West Newton is trained by Ricky Hendriks, who also sends out Del Rio Racing’s Soviet Pimpernel. Since joining the NSA circuit in the fall of 2022, Soviet Pimpernel has made four starts, all in stakes.

Hudson River Farms, Madaket Stables, and R and K Racing’s The Insider returns after a year away from the races. A top three-year-old of 2022, the Keri Brion-trainee captured the prestigious Gladstone Stakes at Far Hills, and in a single 2023 start, won the Imperial Cup at Aiken last spring when it was contested as a stake restricted to four-year-olds.

Sharon Sheppard and Gill Johnston’s Caramelised, trained by Leslie Young, will attempt to flash the form he demonstrated when he unleashed a late rally to take the Carolina Cup novice stakes at Springdale Race Course last March.

Trainer Arch Kingsley, who campaigned 2023 Eclipse Award winner Merry Maker, sends out Hudson River Farms’ Cibolian, a winner of nearly a quarter-million-dollars on the flat, who broke his maiden over jumps at Colonial Downs last summer.

The rest of the card consists of the James Maloney training flat contest at 1 ¼ miles; the $20,000 G.H. Bostwick maiden starter/optional claiming hurdle; the $25,000 Charles Bird III handicap for horses rated at 110 or less; the $30,000 Ford Conger maiden hurdle; and $30,000 Joe Blanchard maiden hurdle for fillies and mares. All of the hurdle races are at 2 ⅛ miles. Click here for complete entries.

First race post time is 1 p.m. and you can watch all the action via live stream from the NSA website,

About National Steeplechase Association