By Joe Clancy (Edited)

Looking as powerful as ever, two-time defending steeplechase champion Good Night Shirt overwhelmed Preemptive Strike in the stretch to win the $75,000 Carolina First Carolina Cup at a rain-drenched Springdale Race Course Saturday.

Owned by Virginian Sonny Via and trained in Maryland by Jack Fisher, Good Night Shirt ran his winning streak to seven, dating back to November 2007, and announced that he has no intention of vacating the titles he captured the past two seasons.

The The 8-year-old Maryland-bred set up shop in second behind Preemptive Strike in the field of five before launching a bid on the final turn. Still second at the final fence, Good Night Shirt moved alongside the leader and drew off late to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Isti Bee rallied for third.

Ridden by Willie Dowling, the winner covered the 2 1/4 miles and 14 fences in 4:36 1/5 over a soft turf course, and had to briefly sweat a stewards’ inquiry in the stretch run.

A son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Concern, Good Night Shirt won the 12th race of his steeplechase career and picked up $45,000 for his work. The payday moved the chestnut to second behind only McDynamo on the career earnings list with $979,493. Eclipse Award winner in 2007 and 2008, Good Night Shirt is bidding to become the first horse to three-peat since Flatterer won four straight in 1983-86.

Fisher compared his horse to a truck.

“Other horses are sports cars, they might be quicker but it looks like he’s got a big diesel engine pushing him,” said the trainer. “He just keeps running. I try not to worry about much, if he got beat he got beat. He doesn’t seem any different to me than he did last year or the year before.”

A perfect 5-for-5 (all Grade I stakes) last year, Good Night Shirt started in the Grade II Carolina Cup due to some changes in the National Steeplechase Association racing calendar. The first Grade I of the year does not come until May 9 with the $150,000 Iroquois in Nashville, Tenn. Good Night Shirt won that race in 2007 and 2008, and bids to become the first horse to win the race in three consecutive years.

(Photo by Tod Marks)