With 11 horses ready to run in the 40th annual Marion DuPont Scott Colonial Cup - twice as many as the field in last year's race - trainer Jonathan Sheppard expects the final jump race of the steeplechase season to be hotly contested.
"To be honest I think it's a wide-open race," said Sheppard, who will bring three horses to the starting gate for the main event at the Springdale Race Course in Camden Saturday.
"I don't see any really great horses. There's a lot of good horses but not great horses, and it makes it, in a way, more exciting. There's no one horse like Good Night Shirt that everyone's expecting to win."
In last year's race, the 7-year-old gelding Good Night Shirt held off a fierce challenge from Preemptive Strike to win its second consecutive Colonial Cup by a nose. Neither Good Night Shirt - which was injured in midseason - nor Preemptive Strike returns to the 2 3/4-mile course Saturday, which promises $100,000 for the winner. The horses slated to run can put themselves in a strong position to win Steeplechase Horse of the Year honors.
"A lot of those horses in the race only have one win," Sheppard said. "If one of those horses can win again on Saturday, then that horse is going to be the steeplechase horse of the year. I'm hoping it will be mine."
Sheppard's three entries for the Colonial Cup are 10-year-old Mixed Up and 9-year-old Three Carat, both geldings, and 9-year-old mare Sweet Shani. He believes Mixed Up stands the best chance at winning.
"He has a better chance than the others," Sheppard said. "With the other horses, their careers have been beset by injury. But both of them have proven to be good horses, and in this race that's going to make them very competitive."
Only one horse returns from last year's Cup race, 8-year-old gelding Best Attack, which was the show horse behind Good Night Shirt and placer Preemptive Strike.
Action at the course starts at 12:30 p.m. with the first of six races. A half-hour interval is between each race. The Cup is the fourth race of the day.