Throwback Thursday: Lonesome Glory and the 1995 Iroquois

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No lesson in recent steeplechase history would be complete without a look at one of the best ever – five-time champion Lonesome Glory. In the 1990s, nobody was better and his 1995 campaign was one of the best ever by an American steeplechaser.

He opened with a flat win at the Carolina Cup April 1, finished second – to Master McGrath – in the Temple Gwathmey April 22. The flashy chestnut, trained by Bruce Miller for breeder Kay Jeffords, didn’t lose again that year. The five-race winning streak began with the Iroquois Steeplechase in Nashville, Tenn. May 13. Run for the 77th time Saturday, the 3-mile race has long been one of the circuit’s key stops but it welcomed a champion 23 years ago.

Steeplechase Times, then in its second season, covered all the action but first a little setup:

Lonesome Glory won his hurdle debut as a 3-year-old at Fair Hill in 1991. The next year, he made history by winning a novice hurdle at England’s Cheltenham Race Course in December. The historic win, the first overseas by an American-based horse, resulted in an Eclipse Award as champion steeplechaser – even if Lonesome Glory’s American campaign consisted of three wins, a second and a third in novice and allowance company. Lonesome Glory won the title again in 1993, on the strength of a win in the Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase at Belmont Park.

In 1994, he won the Gwathmey and the Colonial Cup but suffered three key losses (including a fall in the Iroquois) as the championship went to Warm Spell.

Lonesome Glory in action at Keeneland. Ellen Humes photoThen came 1995.

Coming off the only fall of his career over the course a year earlier and a narrow loss while conceding 17 pounds to Master McGrath in the Gwathmey , Lonesome Glory shipped to Nashville to take on key rival Mistico but the showdown never materialized as Jonathan Sheppard scratched the 1993 and 1994 Iroquois winner three days out. That left just four to take on the champion – the Sheppard-trained Confidente for local owner Calvin Houghland, two-time Iroquois winner Victorian Hill, stakes horse Mr. Yankee from Janet Elliot’s barn and longshot According T Griggs.

We’ll let the 1995 Steeplechase Times take over from here:

Before the 1995 Iroquois Steeplechase, Lonesome Glory probably felt a little like the quarterback who lost the big game.

Afterward, he felt like the prom king.

A faller four fences from home last year, Lonesome Glory made up for that blotch on his record with a win in the $100,000 stakes at Nashville, Tenn. May 13. Ridden by Blythe Miller, Lonesome Glory used his usual late bid to put away foru rivals and claimed the $50,000 winner’s check.

It wasn’t easy.

With about a mile to go in the three-mile race, Lonesome Glory was fourth and apparently stuck in a traffic jam behind suddenly sprightly pacesetter Victorian Hill (Jeff Teter), Mr. Yankee and According T Griggs. Only upstart novice Confidente trailed the two-time steeplechase champion.

Little had changed with a half-mile to run, only the group was even tighter. Miller stayed on the rail, survived a “terrible” jump at the third to last, cut inside Victorian Hill at the head of the stretch and turned aside Confidente (Craig Thornton) to win by 2 3/4 lengths.

Miller said the opponents caught her a little by surprise.

“They really picked it up the last time the backside and I wasn’t quite ready to go yet,” said Miller. “The fence on the turn was probably my fault, I wasn’t really asking him to move yet and I was just sitting there and we just trashed it. He got in close. It was one of those things, you just close your eyes and hope you land on the other side.”

Lonesome Glory, despite skidding his nose on the ground, came out the other side just fine and claimed his ninth U.S. win. The victory pushed his career earnings to $391,254, good for ninth on the all-time list.

Trainer Bruce Miller was as amazed – and relieved – as ever.

“He never makes it easy on you,” he said. “I knew he was in good shape coming into the race, but you never know what to expect.”

Confidente, making his fourth career start, finished a game second to the veteran. Thornton credited experience with Lonesome Glory’s win.

“We were pretty level at the last (fence) and I needed a big jump from him,” he said. “My horse just didn’t have the experience to leave when he was tired. Her horse just left.”

The day included a novice stakes win by Rowdy Irishman for Vesta Balestiere, trainer Bruce Haynes and jockey Jonathan Smart, four wins for owner Augustin Stable and two for trainer Catherine Murphy.

Lonesome Glory only got better as 1995 wore on – winning the A.P. Smithwick (under 164 pounds) and New York Turf Writers Cup (with 166, by a neck over Mistico and jockey Richard Dunwoody) at Saratoga and then closing his season with a knockout in the Colonial Cup in November. The sweep made it three Eclipse Awards in four years, but the Kentucky-bred’s season wasn’t over.

Miller and Jeffords plotted an English invasion, and a shot at the Cheltenham Gold Cup the following March. Lonesome Glory and assistant Trish Daniels went to trainer Charlie Brooks’ yard in November and the American romped in a handicap chase at Sandown Dec. 1 for his fifth consecutive win. Fourth in a January start at Haydock, Lonesome Glory came home shortly thereafter and labored through two starts in the fall of 1996.

In 1997, he bounced back and won the Carolina Cup to start the season and Colonial Cup to end it – claiming a $250,000 bonus for the sweep. He joined Flatterer as a four-time steeplechase champion. Miller took aim at Cheltenham again, aiming for the 1998 Gold Cup. Lonesome Glory trained all winter, won a just-for-him flat prep at Virginia’s Great Meadow course March 2 and even made the early declarations for the March 19 race only to be scratched with a pulled muscle a few days before his flight to the U.K.

Instead, Lonesome Glory opened 1998 with a win in the Grade 1 Hard Scuffle – adding a win at Churchill Downs to his list of achievements. Off a seven-month layoff, the 10-year-old was as impressive as ever that day but lost his other two starts on the year.

Back for more at 11 in 1999, he won the Carolina Cup in March to start the season and then put one more exclamation point on his career with a win at Keeneland in the Royal Chase. The two Grade 1 wins, his only starts of the year, were enough for a record fifth Eclipse Award.

Lonesome Glory was officially retired that fall and died from injuries suffered in a paddock accident in 2002. He is buried under a life-size sculpture at the National Steeplechase Museum in Camden, S.C. He won 19 jump races, earned $1,352,868 and is one of just six horses to win five or more Eclipse Awards – on a list with Forego, John Henry, Affirmed, Secretariat and Wise Dan. Kelso won five consecutive Horse of the Year trophies before the advent of the Eclipse Award. Lonesome Glory was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 2005.

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In honor of its 40th running this year, the Winterthur Point-to-Point steeplechase meet presents a weekly Steeplechase Throwback Thursday feature through May. We’ll look back on historic moments, horses and people in the jumping game – at least a few connected to the race meet on the grounds of the famed Winterthur Museum and Gardens just north of Wilmington, Del. This year’s races were Sunday, May 6. For more installments, click on the Throwback Thursday text tag at the end of the article.