08/11/2009 12:00AM

Longshot appeal in steeplechase


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Thursday's card at Saratoga opens with the $70,000 Ben Nevis steeplechase at 2 1/16 miles, and includes the $150,000 Statue of Liberty division of the New York Stallion (race 9) as well as two strong allowance sprints.

Danielle Hodsdon, who recently reprised Blythe Miller's feat of winning flat and jump races at the same meet, will try to go 3 for 3 aboard Jonathan Sheppard-trained horses. They have already teamed to win a maiden turf race with Sermon of Love and the A.P. Smithwick with Mixed Up, but you'll get a price on Arcadius in the Ben Nevis. The lightly raced gelding is in tough against Spy in the Sky, Swagger Stick, and Dynaski. Dynaski prepped for this winning on the Open House card.

Race 3 is an exceptionally salty seven-furlong allowance, and the pace will unfold briskly.

Just Ben ran a 109 Beyer Speed Figure wiring an allowance on Belmont Stakes Day, and was then purchased by Lael Stable shortly before the Dwyer, in which he set the pace and gave way. He will be making his first start for Barclay Tagg, who made discretion look like the better part of valor by passing last week's Amsterdam against Quality Road.

"Absolutely," said Tagg, whose $15.30 average mutuel topped the leading trainers during the first two weeks of the meet. "It came up too tough and he wasn't quite ready. This isn't an easy spot, but you're not going to find any easy [allowance] races here."

Just Ben could run himself into the King's Bishop with a big race. He is under the gun from the rail against Formidable, a free-running 4-year-old also dropping out of graded stakes, and Royal Vindication, who led to the stretch in an overnight turf stake Aug. 3.

The sextet of 4-year-old fillies in race 8 includes Turn Away, a close third in the First Flight last out; overnight stakes winner Tar Heel Mom; and Choragus, second in the $250,000 Sugar Maple to Spritely in her last start on dirt.

Linda Rice, second in the standings off a 6-for-16 start, has Mother Russia in search of her third N.Y. Stallion win this year. Ramon Dominguez will try to nurse Mother Russia through 1 1/16 miles against the Tagg-trained closer Wild Awake and Sezzana, who has won three in a row for Jim Bond capped by the Niagra Stakes at Finger Lakes.