CAMDEN, S.C. (AP) – Alajmal grabbed the lead with a bounding leap at the 17th and final fence to win the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup Steeplechase on Saturday by 3 1/2-lengths.
The victory made the 5-year-old First Samurai gelding owned by Gregory Hawkins just the second horse to sweep the two Camden feature steeplechases in the same year. Five-time Eclipse Award winner Lonesome Glory scored a double in 1997 by winning the Colonial Cup and the spring Carolina Cup at the Springdale Race Course 1997.
Alajmal won the Carolina Cup in March after being trained by Racing Hall of Fame conditioner Janet Elliot. Alajmal had a new jockey on Saturday when Xavier Aizpuru took over after named starter Mark Beecher was injured in a fall during Saturday's previous race.
Alajmal carried Aizpuru, who won the Colonial Cup aboard Tax Ruling in 2011, over the 2 2/3-mile course in a time of 5:07.6. The horse was the fifth different Grade I winner in the National Steeplechase Association this year.
“It's never nice to pick up a ride in that way, but I certainly glad to be on him,” Aizpuru said. “Janet has done a fantastic job because she's had a battle on her hands all year to get this horse right after winning the Carolina Cup. Thankfully for everybody involved, he came around today. He was great.”
Barnstorming, owned and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, finished second. Sheppard's Italian Wedding was third a length and a half back.
The third Sheppard entry in the race, Divine Fortune, finished fourth while winning the association's Lonesome Glory Champions Award as the top earner on the circuit. The horse is owned by Sheppard and William Pape.
Alajmal raced in the middle of the starting field of 12 jumpers behind The Grey Express Divine Fortune for the early going before Decoy Daddy rallied to go to the front with Gustavian entering the backside. As Decoy Daddy slid back, Gustavian made his move to the front along with Divine Fortune after 13 fences.
Alajmal came up to fourth as the field hit the far turn with Gustavian and Divine Fortune continuing their battle at the point. As the field met the final fence, Aizpuru took Alajmal to the outside and received a huge jump to go to the front for keeps.
Gustavian, bidding for its second Grade I win of 2013, unseated rider Paddy Young at the final fence. Young would recover from the spill and win the final steeplechase of the year, a $20,000 allowance hurdle sweepstakes, to win his fourth NSA leading rider crown. His 16 victories edged out fellow Ireland native Darren Nagle's 15.
After winning this spring's Carolina Cup, 2012 NSA novice champion Alajmal did not finish in the top three places in his next three starts but rebounded in his final start of the season.