07/10/2009 12:00AM

Preemptive Strike in hurdle


Preemptive Strike might be the second-best steeplechase horse in training, with eight lifetime victories and $441,856 in earnings. Unfortunately for him and trainer Sanna Hendriks, two-time Eclipse Award winner Good Night Shirt is still active.

As a 10-year-old last November, Preemptive Strike came within a neck of holding off Good Night Shirt in the Grade 1 Colonial Cup. This spring, they met again, with Good Night Shirt overtaking front-runner Preemptive Strike by 2 1/4 lengths in the Grade 2 Carolina Cup.

Preemptive Strike won't have to deal with Good Night Shirt in the Grade 2, $50,000 David "Zeke" Ferguson Memorial Hurdle, a 2 1/4-mile steeplechase at Colonial Downs. But he will have to cope with two other runners from trainer Jack Fisher's perennially powerful stable in Rare Bush and Swagger Stick.

Fisher has won the title as the nation's top steeplechase trainer in four of the past six years, including in 2008 when his jumpers earned $1.1 million. He leads all trainers with 11 wins and $290,900 this season.

Although the 8-year-old Swagger Stick was a Grade 1 winner last season at Far Hills, he has been off form in two starts this year. In contrast, Rare Bush has 2 wins and a second in 4 starts, including a runner-up finish after opening up a six-length lead in a Grade 3 race over soft ground last time out.

Preemptive Strike, fourth in a Grade 3 in his most recent start on April 18, gets a rider switch to Padge Whelan. His regular jockey, Jody Petty, is on Preemptive Strike's uncoupled stablemate, Rainiero, a 7-year-old who is still eligible for a second-level allowance.

Two other contenders who merit respect are Mixed Up, a 10-year-old with a 10-for-24 record in jump races from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, and Slip Away, a 6-year-old who steps up substantially in class after compiling a six-race winning streak against claiming and starter-allowance competition.