The Shirt is no more. Steeplechase Hall of Famer and two-time champion Good Night Shirt died of colic Sunday. He was 18, and essentially a member of the family while retired at Jack and Sheila Fisher’s farm in Monkton, Md.
Good Night Shirt’s steeplechase career was a blazing comet. After eight starts on the flat, the Maryland-bred made his first hurdle start in April 2005. Four years later, he made his last. In between, he won a dozen races – 10 stakes, eight Grade – and earned $1,006,493 for owners Sonny and Ann Via and trainer Jack Fisher. He won Eclipse Awards in 2007 and 2008. From May 2007 to March 2009, he ran 10 times at the highest level and lost just once. The skein included seven consecutive wins. In the end, an ankle injury sidelined him while prepping for a fall campaign in 2009. He had surgery, tried to make a comeback but was ultimately retired. He owed no one.
“I wish I had five more years of his racing career,” said Fisher Thursday. “He was that good, but when you look at it his career – or the best part of it – really wasn’t that long. He was a lot of fun.”
In retirement, Good Night Shirt did little to nothing. The ankle injury prevented an active second career, though he filled his days. In a field with a dozen others, he had a sandy “beach” to roll in, a pond for wading and plenty of attention.
“He had a great life, lots of friends out there in the field,” said Fisher. “He just kind of relaxed all day.”
Bred by Tom and Chris Bowman in Maryland, the robust chestnut was made for jump racing – even if it took awhile for him to find it. The son of Concern and the Two Punch mare Hot Story didn’t make it to a sale for the Bowmans, and didn’t race as a juvenile. While in work with trainer Vince Moscarelli at Fair Hill Training Center, Good Night Shirt was purchased by Riverdee Stable and won twice in eight flat starts for trainer Lizzie Merryman in 2004.
Sold to the Vias and Fisher that off-season, the gelding was a steeplechaser by spring. His rookie season included two wins, the maiden at Foxfield and a Saratoga allowance and some flashes of promise a fourth and a second in novice stakes company to end the year. He won once in 2006, and staved off a timber career by finishing second to Hirapour in the A.P. Smithwick Memorial.
Then came stardom.
Second in his 2007 debut, the Royal Chase at Keeneland, Good Night Shirt on the Iroquois (over champion McDynamo and two-time race winner Sur La Tete), dominated the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park, finished fourth (to McDynamo) in the Grand National at Far Hills and won the Colonial Cup to claim the championship throne.
His 2008 campaign was one of the best of all-time. Five starts, all Grade 1 stakes, five wins, nothing but convinced witnesses. Wins came in the Georgia Cup in April, the Iroquois in May, the Lonesome Glory in September, the Grand National in October and the Colonial Cup in November. He earned a record $485,520. He and jockey Willie Dowling left no doubts, and received 217 of 219 first-place votes in the Eclipse balloting (the two voters who went other directions should be ashamed).
He returned the next season and won the Carolina Cup to run his winning streak to seven, but finished second to Pierrot Lunaire in the Iroquois.
In 2017, he became the 19th steeplechase horse to make Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame. In addition to the two Eclipse Awards, he was the 2008 Maryland-bred Horse of the Year, the only steeplechaser so honored, and following in the hoofprints of his sire Concern in 1994 and grandsire Broad Brush in 1986 and 1987.
Good Night Shirt was a big part of Steeplechase Times, which covered his entire career. He made the cover three times in 2007 and six more in 2008.
Some highlights from those pages, and the website over the years.
March 23, 2017: A Hall of Fame career gets started.
March 30, 2017: Part Two of the career highlight package.
March 22, 2017: Tod Marks photo slideshow.
April 20, 2017: Jack Fisher podcast interview.
November 9, 2011: A miracle comeback or a crazy dream?
December 19, 2008: Championship profile.
October 31, 2008: Bowmans get a chance to see champ in action.