The inevitable became reality Monday night as Sonny Via's Good Night Shirt received the 2008 Eclipse Award to repeat as champion steeplechaser. The ceremony at the Fountainebleau in Miami Beach, Fla., provided the final stamp on the chestnut's perfect 5-for-5 season, but provided little in the way of drama – for their was no denying Good Night Shirt in 2008.
A worthy champion in 2007, Good Night Shirt had a season for the ages in 2008. Trained by Jack Fisher and ridden by Willie Dowling, the son of Concern did his best work at the sport's highest level – all five wins came in Grade I races. His $485,520 in earnings nearly tripled his nearest pursuer and shattered the mark ($314,163) he himself had set only last year.
"The first time winning something is always the best, but it's obviously great to win it again," said Fisher. "This year there was a little less suspense going in. I really haven't sat back and thought about what a year he had because we want to do it again next year."
"The Shirt" won his first four races by a combined 13 3/4 lengths while rarely being asked for his best run. When challenged in the Colonial Cup, he answered, reaching deep to overcome multiple stakes winner Preemptive Strike at the wire.
Good Night Shirt started his 7-year-old campaign in April, winning the 2-mile Georgia Cup at Atlanta in come-from-behind fashion by 1 1/2 lengths. In May he annexed the 3-mile Iroquois at Nashville for the second year in a row, setting a brisk early pace and widening through the stretch for a 4 1/2-length score that was his most professional performance to date. Once known as a horse who was apt to err at a fence or two during a race, Good Night Shirt's Iroquois effort only cast a larger shadow over the division.
After taking his usual summer freshening Good Night Shirt embarked on his fall campaign much like he did in 2007, taking Belmont Park's Lonesome Glory Stakes by 3 3/4 lengths. The biggest test of the season came in October at Far Hills, on the sport's richest day in sport's richest race, the $250,000 Grand National. Good Night Shirt had failed in two prior attempts at the New Jersey meet, including a fourth in the 2007 Grand National, where he succumbed to the soggy course and future Hall of Famer McDynamo. With McDynamo retired and blue skies ensuring a dried out turf course Good Night Shirt never left a doubt in a matter-of-fact 4-length win that could have been three times that margin had regular jockey Willie Dowling asked his mount.
Good Night Shirt concluded his campaign in the Colonial Cup, when he wore down a game and determined Preemptive Strike in the final yards to post a neck victory. The Colonial Cup win secured a perfect season, one that matches up with the best of all time.
"The biggest difference between this past year and 2007 was the maturity Good Night Shirt showed," said Fisher. "Before he would miss a jump or two, but this year he never did that. He just keeps getting better and better and I think that's come from growing up and maturing."
Bred in Maryland by Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Bowman, Good Night Shirt is out of the Two Punch-mare Hot Story. Following a modest career on the flat, he switched to steeplechasing. Good Night Shirt won two jump races in 2005, took home a stakes in 2006 and won his first championship in 2007. In 21 career starts over hurdles, he has collected 11 wins and $934,493 in purses, which places him third on the all-time earnings list behind only McDynamo and Lonesome Glory. His 2008 earnings led all Maryland-breds, flat or jump, and the two-time champ will return to the course in 2009 carrying a six-race win streak.
Good Night Shirt received 217 of 219 first-place votes cast, with Be Certain and High Action garnering one each. Voters are members of the National Turf Writers Association, Daily Racing Form writers and editors and National Thoroughbred Racing Association representatives.