Celebrate the 2016 steeplechase champs

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Like a good book, the National Steeplechase Association season comes to a conclusion, and the authors put the final chapter to bed at the Colonial Cup Races in Camden, S.C. Nov. 19. No more jump racing in the United States until March.

Just one seasonal championship – among the jockeys – was in the balance going to Camden and the boys put on a show that lasted until the last of seven races on the card. First-time champion Kieran Norris got the nod by one over five-timer Paddy Young with Sean McDermott another win back in third. Thanks for the show. The other races were pretty much decided, but Camden still provided a fitting scene.

Here’s a rundown of the 2016 NSA champions.

Leading Horse – Rawnaq
He won three of four, with a second, and earned $387,000 to lead all steeplechasers on the season. Owned by Irv Naylor and trained by Cyril Murphy, the Irish-bred entered 2016 as the second string to 2015 Eclipse Award winner Dawalan but finishes as the undisputed king of the barn and sport after Dawalan went to the sidelines early with a tendon injury. Rawnaq won the Temple Gwathmey (by 15 lengths) while giving away weight in April, then denied Irish raiders Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon in the Grade 1 Iroquois. Rested over the summer, the son of Azamour returned in October to annex the Grade 1 American Grand National at Far Hills – turning aside Grade 1 winner Scorpiancer and two English rivals. Only a second in November’s Colonial Cup prevented a perfect season, and one of the sport’s great campaigns of all-time. Ridden by Jack Doyle, Ruby Walsh and Sean McDermott on the year, Rawnaq should win the Eclipse Award in a landslide – no recount needed. Bigly. The 9-year-old heads to England in January with an eye on the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March. If he wins, he collects a $500,000 bonus from the Brown Advisory Iroquois-Cheltenham Challenge.

“A little bit of freshening won’t do him any harm,” Murphy said of the winter plans. “We’re thinking the end of January, beginning of February (for the trip to England), try and get a race when we get there and then train though over there toward Chelenenham.”

One Fact: Murphy will join Bruce Miller (Lonsome Glory and All Gong in 1999 and 2000), Jonathan Sheppard (Jimmy Lorenzo and Highland Bud in 1988 and 1989; Café Prince and Martie’s Anger in 1978 and 1979), Mikey Smithwick (Neji and Ancestor in 1958 and 1959) and John Skinner  (American Way and Trough Hill in 1948 and 1949) to win back-to-back titles with different horses.

Novice and Filly/Mare Champion – Get Ready Set Goes
How good was Get Ready Set Goes? The 4-year-old filly entered 2016 as a maiden over hurdles and finished second in her debut at Atlanta in April, then proceeded to win against males at High Hope in May and then add stakes victories against fillies/mares at Saratoga and Far Hills. Bred in Ohio by Frances Hill “Snowie” Myers, the daughter of Run Away And Hide won three of four and earned $94,500  – tops among the girls and all horses that started the year as maidens over hurdles. Better yet, Get Ready Set Goes won for every “little guy” owner/trainer ever. Kentucky-based Hill Parker galloped the filly, drove the van, led her to the paddock and fretted every detail imaginable. He got help from the Boucher family – trainer Lilith, jockey Richard and daughters Mell and Mary – but otherwise did it all. Get Ready Set Goes is the second filly/mare champion to also claim the novice crown – after Guelph in 2005.

One Fact: Mell Boucher, now 14, was the first person to ride Get Ready Set Goes over a fence and helped accept the prizes at the NSA awards dinner after the races in Camden.

Three-Year-Old Hurdle Champion – Officer’s Oath
Homebred steeplechase stars? Maybe this can be a trend, as Officer’s Oath joins Get Ready Set Goes on the 2016 roster. Bred by Jimmy and Emily Day in Virginia, and later sold to clients Bruce and Edie Smart, Officer’s Oath won both hurdle starts and earned $42,000 to lead the division. The son of Luftikus scored at Virginia Fall in September and backed that up with a rich triumph at Far Hills in October. The versatile gelding, ridden in both hurdle starts by Sean McDermott, won on the flat as 2-year-old in November 2015 and did so again in June this year.

One Fact: Steeplechase champions Demonstrative (2010), Lonesome Glory (1991), Warm Spell (1991) and Zaccio (1979) started their careers as 3-year-olds.

Timber Horse – Two’s Company
Trainer Jack Fisher and owner Bruton Street-US dusted off a battalion of imported timber horses in 2016 and got wins from Two’s Company, Lemony Bay, The Nephew and Drift Society. All four wound up in the top 10 among timber horses with Irish-bred Two’s Company taking the championship on the strength of four wins, two seconds and $103,200 in six starts. The 7-year-old edged Ebanour by $4,200 with wins at Camden and Middleburg in April, a second in the Virginia Gold Cup, a Shawan Downs win in September, another win at Middleburg in October and a second in the International Gold Cup. Connor Hankin and Sean McDermott rode the son of Soviet Star, who made his debut under rules after coming to the U.S. in 2015.

One Fact: Fisher horses have won 11 timber championships (four by Saluter, three by Bubble Economy and singles by Call Louis, Gus’s Boy, Charlie’s Dewan and Two’s Company).

Owner – Irv Naylor

At the start of the year, he would have been shorter than even money to win this and the sport’s biggest owner did not disappoint – piling up 21 wins, 20 seconds and 20 thirds (from 109 starts) and breaking his record for annual earnings with $997,600. No one has earned $1 million in a single steeplechase season, ever. Naylor’s horses were based primarily with Cyril Murphy in Maryland, but several other trainers – Billy Meister, Leslie Young and Kevin Tobin among them – ran horses in the green, white and yellow. Stable stars of 2016 included Rawnaq, Ebanour, Charminster, Saluda Sam, Jamarjo and a slew of others. Naylor has won six NSA owners’ crowns, all in the last seven years with Bill Pape (2013) the only break in the chain. 

One Fact: Naylor’s $6,325,862 in lifetime earnings trail only Augustin Stable, by a rapidly diminishing $2.6 million or so. 

Trainer – Jack Fisher
Like Naylor, Fisher would have been odds-on to claim the crown and ran away with it thanks to 26 wins and $1,093,610 from 132 starts to outrun Cyril Murphy’s 17 wins and $813,750 (from just 53 starts). Fisher’s horses also placed second 27 times and third 21 times as he won his 10th championship by races-won and fifth by earnings. Stars of the Maryland-based barn included Grade 1 winner Scorpiancer, novice stakes winner Special Skills, timber champion Two’s Company (who led five Fisher horses in the division’s top 10) and others.

One Fact: One trainer – Fisher – has exceeded $1 million in purse earnings for a single season and he’s done it three times. He still trails Jonathan Sheppard by more than $9 million.

Jockey Earnings – Sean McDermott
With 98 rides, the Irishman led the circuit in total mounts and topped the earnings list with $648,750 thanks to a Grade 1 win with Scorpiancer, a Saratoga win with Detroit Blues, three wins aboard timber champion Two’s Company and a double with top 3-year-old Officer’s Oath. McDermott won a dozen races, third-most behind Kieran Norris and Paddy Young.

One Fact: McDermott had 23 seconds, which would frustrate most people. His answer: “Better than 23 thirds.”

Jockey Wins – Kieran Norris
The Irishman closed with a rush to claim the jockeys’ championship with 14 wins, one more than five-time champion Paddy Young and two more than Sean McDermott. Norris won three jump races at the International Gold Cup meet in October to climb into the race, and sealed it with late-season wins at Aiken and the Colonial Cup. The latter victory, aboard Willow U on the season’s final day, broke a 13-13 tie with Young. Norris rode for a host of trainers on the year, including Neil Morris, Doug Fout and Richard Valentine. Norris rode 94 races on the year, second only to McDermott. Overtook early leader Jack Doyle, who won 11 through Saratoga before going to the sidelines for the rest of the season with an injury.

One Fact: Norris, from Tallow in County Waterford, led all jockeys with 99 rides in 2015, and won just seven. He doubled that total (while riding five less races) in 2016.

Amateur Jockey and Timber Jockey – Connor Hankin
He only rode through Saratoga, but put up nine wins overall and six over timber to claim both trophies. A 2016 University of Virginia graduate, Hankin put his steeplechase career on hold in September to join the United States Marine Corps. The Marylander graduated Officer Candidate School in November.

One Fact: Hankin got his start in junior races supported by the North American Point-to-Point Association and National Steeplechase Foundation on the circuit.

Apprentice Jockey – Brendan Crowley
By winning a race with Canadian Gold on the season’s final day, the Irishman broke a 5-5 tie with Connor Hankin to take home the prize as leading apprentice. Rode mainly for trainer Doug Fout, including two wins each aboard Hardrock Eleven and Canadian Gold.

One Fact: Crowley has a masters degree in financial economics.



Special Skills didn’t get an award for his 2016, but deserves a mention for putting together a standout second season over jumps. The 6-year-old son of Bernstein won three of eight starts (including stakes at Far Hills and Callaway Gardens) to earn $178,750 for Fisher and owners Sheila Williams and Northwood Stable. Bred by Sierra Farm, Special Skills raced on the flat for trainer Alan Goldberg and sold for $200,000 as a 2-year-old (OBS March) and $140,000 as a yearling (Keeneland September). The Kentucky-bred has won five of his 10 starts over hurdles after winning three (and placing in the 2012 Pilgrim at Belmont Park) on the flat . . . The 2017 steeplechase season opens at Aiken, S.C. March 25 . . . Expect a bit of shuffling as North Carolina’s Stoneybrook Steeplechase (early April) will drop from the schedule, though it’s possible a spring date at Charleston could take the spot . . . Like the jockeys’ race, the TIHR handicapping challenge came down to the wire. Joe doubled at Camden – Alcazar de Maram in the maiden and Invocation (after the scratch of Officer’s Oath) in the 3-year-old hurdle stakes – while Sean and Tom were blanked. Joe finished the fall season with 18 wins to 16 each for the others.

Final 2016 NSA Standings.