Guelph beats boys, claims crown at Palm Beach

WELLINGTON, Fla. -- Last chance. Last race. Lasting impression.

The Fields Stable's Guelph, making the final start of her stellar career, dashed off with the $75,000 Palm Beach Steeplechase at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center Saturday. With the win, the 7-year-old daughter of Sky Classic beat three male rivals and claimed the National Steeplechase Association's 2008 filly/mare championship.

Trained by Tom Voss, Guelph dashed immediately to the front and set a solid pace while keeping a measured lead on chief rival Dr. Bloomer. The latter advanced to her flank down the backside, but Guelph jumped away from him at the ninth of 11 fences and galloped off to score by 3 lengths under Page Whelan. Dr. Bloomer held for second with Baby League third. The winner covered the 2 1/4 miles over the new course in 3:39. The race, part of the the first steeplechase at Palm Beach since 1985, produced a field of four after the late scratches of Dalucci and Ouninpohja.

Also champion in 2005, Guelph came into the race needing just less than $10,000 to pass Class Shadow for the 2008 title. Despite taking on geldings and needing only to finish second, she left no doubt with a powerful victory that showcased her jumping and determination.

"When we said we were going to run her one more time, it really put the pressure on us," said Voss. "If you run her one more time and she does it like that, it's a great feeling. Now she's done. That's it. She tries so hard every time adn it's hard to get any horse to do that. You appreciate everything she's done."

Bred in Maryland by Voss' wife Mimi (who co-owns the mare with Betty Merck and her son Laddie Merck), Guelph lost all five flat starts back in 2004 but won her steeplechase debut for a $15,000 claiming tag the next year at Atlantic City. She wound up the filly/mare champion of 2005 with three stakes victories to go along with the maiden-breaker. She was second in her only start of 2006, but was later found to have fractured her withers in a pre-race saddling incident and missed the next 17 months. Winless in three starts in 2007, she returned with a vengeance in 2008 - winning at Nashville and Fair Hill in May and at Callaway Gardens in November. Class Shadow defeated Guelph at Far Hills in October and took the lead in the standings only to have Guelph reclaim the crown on the season's final day.

For 2008, Guelph finished with four wins, a second and $123,424 earned in six starts. Produced from the Eastern Echo mare Distant Drumroll (herself a steeplechase winner), Guelph leaves steeplechasing with a career mark of eight wins in 15 starts. She will embark on a career as a broodmare.

Palm Beach brought the 2008 steeplechase season to a close and helped crown one champion in Guelph and another in trainer Jack Fisher. He came into the day with a two-win cushion on Voss, and gave one back for a narrow 26-25 win. Voss won two on the day, Guelph and Slip Away, while Fishser added a solo tally with Seeking No More.

Other 2008 steeplechase divisional winners were: Good Night Shirt (horse), The Price Of Love (novice horse), Bubble Economy (timber horse), Class Real Rock (3-year-old horse), Sonny Via (owner) and Xavier Aizpuru (jockey). The official steeplechase champion will be crowned as part of Thoroughbred racing's Eclipse Awards program, but Good Night Shirt is an overwhelming favorite after a 5-for-5 campaign and a record $485,520 earned.

NSA racing begins again in March with the 2009 season opener.