09/23/2010 1:24PM

Sheppard sending strong pair over jumps

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Barbara D. Livingston
Sermon of Love comes into the Sampson off a win in the New York Turf Writers.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – Monmouth Park will once again host a charity benefit card Saturday that blends steeplechase and flat racing. Five of the 12 races are sponsored by the National Steeplechase Association, including the day’s main event: the Grade 1, $100,000 Helen Haskell Sampson Stakes at 2 1/2 miles over National Fences.

Admission will be $10 for the clubhouse and grandstand, with the entire gate from the Monmouth Park-Meridian Health Steeplechase Festival going to the K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. Additional sponsorships and hospitality functions will be available at the track.

This is the second straight year that Monmouth has teamed with the NSA for a charity program.

For the jumpers, the Sampson kicks off the fall season that leads to the Grade 1 division-defining stakes: the Grand National and the Colonial Cup.

Jonathan Sheppard sends out two of the top contenders in the Sampson in Sermon of Love and Arcadius, the 1-2 finishers in the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Handicap at Saratoga. They will be uncoupled in the wagering for the Sampson, and the scale could tell the tale.

Both carried 148 pounds in the Turf Writers, where Sermon of Love beat Arcadius by one length. As a result of that victory, Sermon of Love gets 154 pounds, while Arcadius drops to 142.

The 12-pound edge could tip the balance in favor of Arcadius in the rematch.

“Sermon of Love is not a very big horse,” Sheppard said. “After much soul searching, I gave the choice of mounts to Brian Crowley. Even though he feels loyalty to Sermon of Love because he won the Turf Writers on him, he decided to go with Arcadius because of the weight difference.”

Crowley is a new member of Sheppard’s team who came over from Ireland in the spring.

“He got away from racing following a terrible spill, working on a stud farm,” Sheppard said. “He decided to give it one more crack and joined our stable. His first win at a big meet was on Arcadius at Camden. I think he feels a bit of special bond that helped decide it.”

Arcadius has a pair of seconds and a third in the three starts since that victory.

With Crowley opting for Arcadius, Danielle Hodsdon gets the mount on Sermon of Love, who was unbeaten in two starts at the past Saratoga meet since Sheppard added blinkers.

“Sermon of Love was quite a bit the best in the Turf Writers,” Sheppard said. “I’m happy in a way that Danielle is going to get a chance to ride him, because she’s been my stable jockey that last five or six years and it was her idea to put the blinkers on. To some extent, she’s stepping into a hot seat with a horse that had won two big races in a row with another jockey.”

Other top contenders include Tax Ruling, unraced since capturing the Grade 1 Iroquois Stakes in May, and Red Letter Day, making his season debut following a neck loss in last year’s Colonial Cup.

◗ Back on the flat, the revival of the Garden State Stakes for 2-year-olds drew eight runners for the one-mile race. A longtime fixture at Garden State Park, the race was won by notables such as Secretariat and Spend a Buck. That sets the bar very high for this year’s field that includes Sweet Ducky, an impressive debut winner who was fourth in the Tyro Stakes, and the trio of Curlinello, Astrology, and Tiz Blessed who all scored maiden wins last time out at Saratoga.