The road to steeplechasing can be straight and true for the players – Dad rode jumpers, son rides jumpers. But for the horses, the road to steeplechasing is usually a winding one, with ups and downs, u-turns and exit ramps and on ramps.
We’ll come back with proper features about each stakes at Far Hills, but for now, here’s the back story on how the seven winners found their way to American steeplechasing.
First Race. The Peapack Filly and Mare Stakes. One Lucky Lady.
She began her career as a flat horse in England, breaking her maiden as a 2-year-old at Pontefract for her owner S W Logistics and trainer Barry Hills. She went on to win twice more on the flat, including a handicap at Bath in August 2011, giving Hills a final winner before the legendary trainer retired from training (he subsequently returned when his son John died).
The daughter of Lucky Story transferred to Hills’ neighbor in Lambourn, Nicky Henderson, and began her jump career. She won once from two starts over chase fences and garnered four wins from 17 starts over hurdles. She was purchased for £20,000 by Clancy Bloodstock and Stroud/Coleman Bloodstock at the Doncaster May Sale. Sent to Cyril Murphy, she made her stateside debut at Far Hills. Hello, America.
Second Race. The Harry E. Harris Sport of Kings Maiden Hurdle. The Grange.
Charlie LoPresti, trainer of two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan, needed a new plan with the 5-year-old daughter of Broken Vow this summer. With just three career starts and zero wins for owner/breeder Ward C. Pitfield, The Grange was running out of time.
Pitfield, a Canadian financier who bred Grade 1 stakes winner Wild Rush, owned The Grange’s dam, Cool Reception. A daughter of Deputy Minister, she had gone 0-for-4 in her career.
LoPresti saw Sean Clancy at Fasig-Tipton July and asked him to come see a “big, one-paced mare who got loose once and jumped a board fence at Keeneland. I mean, cleared it.” LoPresti’s assistant, Reeve McGaughey, led her out of the barn and she was booked on Dave Washer’s van to Camden, S.C., to meet up with Kate and Bernie Dalton, who have had success with mares in steeplechasing.
Two months later, she made her debut at Shawan Downs, finishing fourth. After the race, Bernie Dalton slid out of the saddle, looked at one of the owners and said, “Get ready to get your picture taken at Far Hills.”
Third race. The Foxbrook Champion Hurdle. Scorpiancer.
Bred in Ireland by Mary O’Connor, the son of Scorpion went through the sales ring three times. First as a foal at Tattersalls Ireland in November 2009. He failed to sell for 4,800 euros. Nearly three years later, he went from O’Connor to Eugene O’Sullivan for 26,000 euros at Goffs Landrover Sale for store horses. O’Sullivan turned an Irish coup, unveiling Scorpiancer for The Hanleys Butchers 5-year-old Geldings Maiden at Kildorrery Point-to-Point in February 2014. The comment read, “Mid div, 8th when mstk 7th, prog in 5th 4 out, chall when outjumped 3 out, ld 2out, clr last, sow, impressive.” Over 3 miles in heavy ground, the win proved lucrative as O’Sullivan sent him to Brightwells Cheltenham Sale in 2014.
Gearoid Costelloe, partner of trainer Rebecca Curtis, hit a final bid of £200,000 ($309,000 today). Running for Bruton Street UK – II, Scorpiancer made his debut under National Hunt rules with a promising second in a Ffos Las bumper in November 2014. He subsequently went 1-for-5 over hurdles, his only victory coming in a maiden hurdle at Ludlow in the dead of winter. The Racing Post described it as, “Two came well clear and are probably fair performers in the making, but the remainder appear just modest at best. Scorpiancer, tried in a tongue-tie, was always travelling nicely on his second start over hurdles and stayed on in determined style. Going up in trip appeared to suit, and while he may struggle to carry a penalty in this sphere, he can develop into a nice handicapper in due course.”
Three starts later, Scorpiancer finished third of three in a Warwick handicap hurdle. The Racing Post gave the performance a matter-of-fact appraisal, “Scorpiancer stopped quickly on handicap debut once making a mistake at the third-last. Sean Bowen eased right off his mount in the home straight. The Stewards considered the running of the gelding. The rider reported that the gelding made jumping errors at both the fourth and third-last, plus they noted the trainer´s representative’s explanation that the gelding had a breathing problem.”
Jack Fisher met him this year and unveiled him in the ratings hurdle at Shawan, where he decimated an out-classed group, setting him for a win in the Foxbrook Novice Stakes at Far Hills.
Fourth Race. The Grand National. Dawalan.
Bred by the His Highness the Aga Khan’s Studs in France, Dawalan was not meant to be a jumper. The 5-year-old is a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Turf winner and Turf Champion Daylami, as well as black-type performers Dalakhani, Dalghar and Daymarti.
Dawalan made four starts on the flat in France for the Aga Khan, mustering two runner-up finishes and two fifths. After finishing fifth and last at Deauville in July, 2013, Dawalan shifted spheres to Nicky Henderson, making his debut over hurdles in November, 2013. He won four hurdle races but failed to threaten at the big meets, finishing 16th in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham and 15th in a Grade 3 hurdle at Aintree this spring.
Purchased by Clancy Bloodstock and Stroud-Coleman Bloodstock for Naylor this summer, Dawalan finished a closing third in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park before winning the richest race of the year at Far Hills.
Fifth Race. Ratings Hurdle. The Nephew.
Another Irish-bred who went through the sales ring multiple times. The son of Indian River failed to sell for 3,600 Euros at Tattersalls Ireland in February 2009. Over two years later, he changed hands for £12,000 from Bluegate Stud to GH Bloodstock. Eleven months later, British National Hunt trainer Jonjo O’Neill purchased him for 55,000 pounds from Skehanagh Stable. In November 2013, O’Neill wasn’t able to get him sold at Ascot Sales. Before, during and after those sales forays, the bay gelding went winless in 10 hurdle starts but won five chases from 14 tries.
The incomparable A.P. McCoy guided him to his final victory in England, in a handicap chase at Fontwell. He told the Racing Post, “The track suited him as he is a little quirky and his will to win has been questioned. He was very brave today to be fair to him. I was trying to fill him up when he made his mistake going into the bottom bend.”
In his final start for O’Neill, he was brought down four from home in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham in March, eliciting a Racing Post comment, “The Nephew was still on the premises when brought down, but he’d raced keenly and wouldn’t have featured anyway.”
Bruton Street US bought The Nephew after Cheltenham and moved him to Fisher’s barn. The 7-year-old produced a promising spin in a training flat race at Virginia Fall before taking advantage of the ratings race at Far Hills.
Sixth Race. Three-year-old Hurdle. Ice It.
If you’re keeping score, three of the first five winners were bred to be flat horses and two were bred to be jumpers. The sixth winner on the card is certainly one in the former camp.
By leading sire in the country, Tapit, out of Grade 2 stakes winner Spice Island, Ice It fetched $310,000 as a foal at Keeneland November 2012. Bred by Qatar Racing and consigned by Hunter Valley Farm and purchased by Steven Young, Ice It made two starts for prominent flat owner, Robert La Penta and trainer Graham Motion. Beaten double digits in two Laurel Park maiden races last fall, Ice It wound up with former jump jockey Jonathan Thomas, who handles some of La Penta’s horses at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, Fla. Thomas called his mentor, Fisher, and Ice It became a house horse for Fisher’s wife Sheila’s DASH Stable.
Spring and summer schooling sessions were auspicious to say the least but the sprightly gelding learned his lessons well enough to make his debut at Shawan Downs. Given a quiet, educational ride by Sean McDermott, Ice It finished second to Buckrail and set himself up for a score at Far Hills.
Seventh Race. The New Jersey Hunt Cup. Ebanour.
The Aga Khan should be proud, he bred two out of the seven winners on the star-studded card.
A half-brother to three black-type runners, including £241,089 winner Eyshal, Ebanour failed to make it to the races for his breeder and trainer John Oxx and was consigned to Doncaster November Yearlings and Horses in Training Sale in 2010. Without a race record, the son of Indian Ridge was still enticing, earning a final bid of 120,000 pounds from British jump trainer Donald McCain.
Three months later, he won his debut in a bumper at Wetherby. He followed that victory with two wins from eight starts over hurdles and was swept into Naylor’s wide net after finishing seventh in a Southwell hurdle race in July 2012. Two months later, Brianne Slater unveiled Ebanour for the William Entenmann Novice Stakes where he finished fifth to future Grade 1 stakes winners Gustavian and Alajmal. After a disappointing run when fifth behind Cuse at Virginia Fall, Slater switched the solid chestnut to timber where he finished second to Nationbuilder at Callaway Gardens. The next spring, he beat future Maryland Hunt Cup winner Raven’s Choice at My Lady’s Manor and finished third at Winterthur.
This spring, Ebanour brushed off a two-year layoff to finish second to Snow Blizzard at the Manor. The New Jersey Hunt Cup was his first start this fall.
• Jockey Robbie Walsh suffered a dislocated right hip, a fractured bone in his foot and a fractured clavicle when he fell in the maiden.
• Trainer Richard Valentine reported that 2014 champion Demonstrative seemed fine after a disappointing last-place finish in the Grand National. A jumping error at the fourth-to-last finished his chances of defending his title.