Imagine pushing the buttons, pulling the levers, turning the cranks. You own the team. You make the decisions and live with them. You hire, you fire, you buy, you sell.
Now imagine it worked.
You pushed, pulled, turned your way to the most successful season in your sport’s history.
That was Irv Naylor’s 2011 run to the National Steeplechase Association owners’ championship. Naylor campaigned the top four horses in the standings, the only four to earn more than $100,000. He will probably have all three Eclipse Award finalists with the championship likely going to dual Grade I winner Tax Ruling or perhaps leading earner Black Jack Blues. Naylor set a record for earnings with $719,725. No other owner earned $200,000 in 2011.
Naylor’s green, yellow and white team won the Temple Gwathmey, the Iroquois, the Marcellus Frost, the Grand National, the Foxbrook, the Noel Laing, the Colonial Cup. Crazily, just three of the owner’s 16 wins came in timber races (once Naylor’s main reason for playing this game).
The record-breaking year started quietly enough – over the first four weeks, Naylor’s horses lost their first eight races – then got loud. He fired trainer Desmond Fogarty, who engineered the bulk of the owner’s 2010 championship, and dispatched horses to Tom Foley, Brianne Slater and others. The move paid immediate dividends when Decoy Daddy, trained by Foley, won the Gwathmey at Middleburg April 23.
Each May, steeplechasing goes to Nashville for the Iroquois – for a card full of high stakes (literal and figurative). Naylor horses swept half the card, winning three of the six jump races and $156,000 of the $402,300 purse structure. In his first start for Slater, Tax Ruling led the way with a repeat score in the Grade I Iroquois – knocking off 2010 champion Slip Away. Continuing his role as the sport’s best understudy, Decoy Daddy added the Grade II Frost in a 2-mile shootout with Left Unsaid, Country Cousin and Mixed Up. The Foley-trained Chess Board opened the day with a gutsy win in the 3-mile Bright Hour amateur hurdle. The winners were Naylor’s only three starters on the day.
The stable went relatively dormant over the summer, though Decoy Daddy flew the flag at Saratoga – nearly making off with the A.P. Smithwick and getting knocked to the ground in the New York Turf Writers Cup melee.
No matter. By September, the sport’s most upwardly mobile stable was reloading, restocking, reinventing. Tax Ruling prepped in Pennsylvania with Slater. Decoy Daddy cranked up again in Maryland with Foley. Newcomer Organisateur, fifth in the Walsh at Saratoga, readied in Pennsylvania with Bruce Miller.
And Naylor hired former jump jockey (and former flat trainer) J.W. Delozier to head the farm operation. The owner’s Still Water Farm, deep in Maryland timber country, includes turf gallops, a swimming pond and every other need with which to develop steeplechase horses. Fogarty used the place to win nine races in 2009, seven in 2010. Delozier launched an autumn arsenal from there in 2011. He claimed Lake Placid for $10,000 at Colonial Downs. He folded Irish-bred Black Jack Blues into the equation. He bought prospect Imperial Gin from the Boniface family.
And won races with each.
Black Jack Blues stepped off the plane from England and won the inaugural Dot Smithwick Memorial at Virginia Fall Oct. 1. Lake Placid paid immediate dividends with a victory at Great Meadow Oct. 15. And then came Far Hills Oct. 22. In his first start for Naylor, Imperial Gin won the maiden. On a week’s rest, Lake Placid won the Foxbrook to become a stakes winner and novice champion. In his second American start, Black Jack Blues dominated the $250,000 Grand National. The richest race on the circuit by at least $100,000 lured the field of the year and got the performance of the year – a 7-length win by a horse who wasn’t in the country a month earlier. Organisateur finished second.
As he did at the Iroquois in May, Naylor dominated Far Hills. The stable left with $265,250 of the $469,750 offered and a seasonal total of $605,775. That latter figure was a record, four weeks before the season actually ended.
As the days grew shorter, Naylor’s stable kept delivering. Decoy Daddy, who bypassed Far Hills, ran away with the Noel Laing at Montpelier. By season’s end, the only question was which Naylor horse could step up in the Grade I Colonial Cup – Black Jack Blues, Decoy Daddy or Tax Ruling. The three-headed monster became just two when Black Jack Blues went down with a cough three days before the race, but it didn’t matter. Tax Ruling, cycling back to his best form, made off with the $100,000 Cup to pull the final lever and cap a season for the ages.
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Sts 1st 2nd 3rd Earnings
119 16 15 12 $719,725
Second consecutive championship for longtime steeplechase supporter and York, Pa. resident. Broke Augustin Stable’s single-season earnings record of $596,991 set in 2000. Former amateur rider won his first NSA race in 1964. Won 16 percent of 2011 season’s total purse structure. Highlights included three wins apiece at the Iroquois and Far Hills, the two richest meets on the circuit. Employed trainers J.W. Delozier, Brianne Slater, Tom Foley, Billy Meister, Kathy McKenna, Bruce Miller and Desmond Fogarty during 2011 season.