A veteran stakes winner, a long-winded newcomer from Ireland, and a promising Aiken winner are among the five nominees to the $50,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3), the featured race of the 49th annual Aiken Spring Steeplechase on Saturday, March 21.

The Aiken Spring races, a rite of spring in South Carolina, kicks off the 2015 National Steeplechase Association racing season. First post time is 1 p.m. at Ford Conger Field in Aiken.

Why Not Racing’s Class Bopper, a veteran stakes performer who won the 2010 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 3), split last season between hurdle races and flat starts. His lone victory was a score in $15,000 claiming hurdle at the Dogwood Classic in Virginia, and he finished fourth in the Valentine Memorial starter stakes at the Fair Hill Races in Maryland.

Lilith Boucher, who trains Class Bopper, also nominated Perfect Peace Stable’s Marq Your Bible, a runaway winner over hurdles at the Foxfield Fall Races who came back to win a Virginia-bred flat race at the International Gold Cup on Oct. 25. A week later, the front-runner finished third in the Crown Royal allowance hurdle at the Steeplechase at Callaway.

Dogwood Stable, based in Aiken and headed by Cot Campbell, was represented in the nominations by Street Fight, who has run his best races over the Aiken course. He won a hard-fought maiden victory in the fall of 2013 and came back to run second behind front-runner Pleasant Woodman in last year’s Budweiser Imperial Cup. Arch Kingsley Jr. trains Street Fight, who has not started since last year’s Aiken race.

The newcomer to American racing is Daybreak Stable’s Diplomat, who was purchased by trainer Jimmy Day from Dermot Weld’s stable in Ireland. Although winless in eight starts over fences and on the flat last year, the Kentucky-bred by Kitten’s Joy won two Irish hurdle races in 2013.

Also nominated was Stonelea Stable’s Balance the Budget, a 2014 maiden hurdle winner who finished third in the Budweiser Holiday Cup at Aiken Fall. Julie Gomena trains the Bellamy Road gelding for Stonelea’s Nina Bonnie.

Here are the nominees to the Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3):

Balance the Budget. 2009 ch. g., Bellamy Road—Every Day Is Good, by El Corredor. Owner: Stonelea Stable. Trainer: Julie Gomena. 2014 record: 7-1-1-2, $27,000. Concluded 2014 season with a third in Aiken Fall’s Budweiser Holiday Cup. Won Shawan Downs maiden hurdle by 5 1/2 lengths on Sept. 27 after close-up fourth in tough Saratoga Race Course allowance hurdle. Finished third in Parx Racing maiden hurdle on July 1.

Class Bopper. 2005 ch. g., Bop—Class Vim, by Class Secret. Owner: Why Not Racing. Trainer: Lilith Boucher. 2014 NSA record: 3-1-0-0, $24,700. Resumed jump racing career in 2014 after spending 2013 on the flat. Began 2014 with a victory in Dogwood Classic claiming hurdle at Colonial Downs on April 5 before fourth in Valentine Memorial starter stakes and fifth in a Monmouth Park optional allowance hurdle. Won the 2010 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 3) at Colonial.

Diplomat. 2009 b. g., Kitten’s Joy—Waki Affair, by Miswaki. Owner: Daybreak Stable. Trainer: Jimmy Day. 2014 NSA record: No starts. Veteran competitor in Ireland for trainer Dermot Weld mixed hurdle racing with flat starts but was winless in eight outings in 2014. Best was a third on the flat in Killarney in August. Had two victories over hurdles in 2013. Bred by champion owners-breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey and is a full brother to stakes-placed Kitten Love.

Marq Your Bible. 2009 dk. B. or br. g., Marquetry—Red Devilette, by Oh Say. Owner: Perfect Peace Racing. Trainer: Lilith Boucher. 2014 record: 9-2-2-2, $44,475.Virginia-bred won a state-bred allowance on the flat at the International Gold Cup and then was third in the Crown Royal allowance hurdle at the Steeplechase at Callaway.

Street Fight. 2009 b. g., Street Sense–Reportedly, by Silver Deputy. Owner: Dogwood Stable. Trainer: Arch Kingsley Jr. 2014 record: 1-0-1-0, $9,000. In his only 2014 start, ran a solid second in the Budweiser Imperial Cup. Ran a powerful race to win maiden debut over fences at Aiken Fall in 2013, then was eighth in Colonial Cup allowance hurdle.