Champion 2nd-Year Novice: Tax Ruling

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ST profiled the steeplechase champions in its December edition and will re-run those articles here.

The blueprint for Irv Naylor’s stable has always been drawn with theprecision of a T-square; the timber runners do the heavy lifting whilethe hurdle horses imitate an aging Triple-A pitcher and start a fewtimes for the big club each summer. Tried and true, the formula hasbeen as solid as the timber fences Naylor’s horses have scaled to thetune of five championships (including 2009) in the past six years.

The permanent frown that is the Internal Revenue Service wasn’t impressed with Naylor’s championship trophies and questioned the timber-driven business model – and more importantly whether you can make money from a sport with so few big money races. Naylor adjusted, tweaked the program and moved forward.

“The IRS said the old way wasn’t a legitimate business, so I wrote a new business plan to include hurdle horses,” Naylor said. “I used the models of Good Night Shirt, McDynamo, Lonesome Glory – they made a million dollars and that’s real money. Tax Ruling was bought specifically to be a hurdle horse. He turned out OK, didn’t he?”

The trophy on the mantel says so.

Naylor’s aptly named Tax Ruling started the year as a competent allowance runner, advanced to a novice stakes winner and then solidified his status as a top-shelf open stakes performer by the end of the season. Along the way the 6-year-old did more than pay the bills, winning twice in six starts, amassing $98,500 and winning the Second Year Novice Championship under Desmond Fogarty’s tutelage.

With a barn full of classy timber runners, Naylor had reason for championship aspirations when the season started. Just not from a horse that entered 2009 with only a maiden hurdle win to his credit.

“Going into the season we felt like he was just a nice allowance horse that was growing up and maturing,” Naylor said. “We didn’t really think he would jump up and run so well, win a stakes by open lengths and then go on to a whole new ballgame at the end of the season.”

Tax Ruling started 2009 with a determined allowance win at Strawberry Hill but tempered any enthusiasm when he fell at the last while tiring in a Charlotte allowance two weeks later. Fogarty forged on and entered Tax Ruling in Radnor’s National Hunt Cup for novice runners in May. Tax Ruling galloped on a loose lead, led at every call and ran off to a 12-length win. In his wake came Terpsichorean, The Price Of Love, Spy In The Sky and Dictina’s Boy. The allowance performer had suddenly morphed into a potential star, not that his trainer saw it coming.

“I left Radnor completely scratching my head because that was not the type of performance I was expecting,” Fogarty said. “There was a time when he was 4 or 5 that I thought maybe he was going to top out as an allowance horse. So to see him run off like that was a surprise to me. He was always a half-decent horse but just not something you would think of in terms of a stakes runner. More than anything he had improved with age and maturity. He’s grown up a lot and that began to show itself throughout the course of the year.”

Fogarty backed off after Radnor and aimed for the fall. He prepped Tax Ruling with a useful fourth in Saratoga’s Paul Fout Stakes in September and after missing Belmont’s Lonesome Glory in September due to a minor issue, sent him to Far Hills’ Grand National in October to test open stakes horses for the first time. Tax Ruling stalked the pace from third and held that position to the wire while finishing well clear of every horse that started the season in North America. He built on that run in Camden’s Colonial Cup when he again finished third, just 1 3/4 lengths behind champion Mixed Up and gives Fogarty every reason to expect an even better horse in 2010.

“Certainly he’s just continued to improve, continued to mature and grow up and we feel that he’s going to get one of those Grade I’s next year,” Fogarty said. “He’ll just be 7 next year and coming into his prime, so you would think with a little more maturity and improvement one of those big races will have his name on it.”

Though it took longer than expected, Tax Ruling was destined for stardom. By Dynaformer out of Grade I winner Fantastic Find, Tax Ruling was bred by the famed Phipps Stable. When he failed to make it to the races for the Phipps family, he became the charter member of Naylor’s newly diversified stable in 2006.

Like any great pioneer, Tax Ruling has opened the door for those that followed. Classy flat runners Best Name and Best Alibi were bought from the Godolphin/Darley pipeline. Each hinted at ability this year and the latter has the makings of a second-year novice star in 2010.

Naylor, like his stable, has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts. While his silks have won the majority of the circuit’s major timber races, he’s seldom been a major player on the hurdle scene. Woody Boy Would and Sassello were solid runners but bow to Tax Ruling’s past and potential future accomplishments.

“It’s extremely exciting to have some hurdle horses in the barn, especially one as talented as Tax Ruling, who we think next year can go on and be a Grade I winner,” Naylor said. “I never rode hurdle horses or had much to do with them so I’m learning more and more about it. Of course my heart is always going to be over timber but I’m very enthused about the transformation going forward.”

See this story and more in the December newspaper by logging in to the ST Clubhouse.