01/22/2004 1:00AM

Sheppard heads chase group


The National Steeplechase Association has elected the Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard to be its president, the association announced Thursday.

Sheppard, 63, was elected to the unpaid position by the association's board of directors on Jan. 16 and will succeed George Strawbridge in a five-year term. During a 40-year career, Sheppard has trained Thoroughbreds for both the flat and hurdles.

Separately, the association announced that it has replaced two stakes races in its Triple Crown series for 2004. The Triple Crown will now consist of the April 11 Georgia Cup in Kingston, Ga., at 2 miles; the May 15 National Hunt Cup in Radnor, Pa., at 2 1/4 miles; and the June 3 Meadow Brook Stakes at Belmont Park in New York, at 2 1/2 miles. Each race will carry a purse of $100,000 and the NSA's Grade 1 ranking.

The reconfiguration was necessary after both Churchill Downs and Pimlico decided not to host NSA events this year. Last year, Churchill hosted the Hard Scuffle Stakes, the first race in the Triple Crown, and Pimlico hosted the Joe Aitcheson Stakes, the second.