04/19/2007 11:00PM

Mixed Up holds on by neck

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The once-a-year novelty of steeplechase racing at Keeneland resulted in a thrilling finish Friday, with Mixed Up, trained by Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard, holding off longshot Good Night Shirt by a neck to win the Grade 1 Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings.

With Danielle Hodsdon riding for owner William Pape, Mixed Up took a narrow lead after the last of 13 jumps, then was all-out to turn back an inside surge by Good Night Shirt, ridden by William Dowling.

Mixed Up, an 8-year-old Carnivalay gelding bred by his owner and trainer, last raced five months ago, when he finished fourth in the Colonial Cup at Camden behind McDynamo, the three-time Eclipse Award-winning steeplechaser. Overall, Mixed Up now has won 13 of 33 starts, with the $95,475 winner's share of the $159,125 purse lifting his career bankroll to $487,526.

Mixed Up laid off the early pace in the 10th running of the Royal Chase, the only jumping event each year at Keeneland. By the last jump, after front-running Riddle had tired, the race came down to Mixed Up trying to hold off Paradise's Boss and Good Night Shift. He did so, with Good Night Shift beating Paradise's Boss by a neck.

"It was a very exciting race," said Sheppard. Mixed Up, he said, is "a very proud, cocky little horse. He always stays pretty up."

Mixed Up returned $9 as second choice in a field of 11. His final time over a firm turf was 4:42.95.

As often occurs in jumping races, several horses failed to complete the course. Party Airs was pulled up after about a mile. Preemptive Strike fell over a jump in the stretch the second time around. He galloped off and was uninjured. Mauritania was eased the final time down the stretch. And of gravest concern to the crowd, Racey Dreamer, an 8-year-old A.P. Indy gelding making his first start in nearly three years, fell after jumping on the backstretch, suffering a catastrophic injury that required him being euthanized.

No jockeys were injured.

The Friday card drew 19,259 on the first afternoon of seasonable spring weather at the 10-day-old meet. "This feels like opening day of the spring meet," Keeneland president Nick Nicholson joked. "I'm glad that winter meet is out of the way."

The co-presenter of the winner's trophy was Dick Francis, the noted author and steeplechase enthusiast.