The Outside Rail

1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1.

That’s eight firsts in a row for steeplechase horse Snap Decision. He goes for nine in Saturday’s Grade 1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois in Nashville. A ninth win would tie Thrice Worthy’s modern-day record for consecutive wins by an American steeplechase horse dating to 1981-82. Though it doesn’t quite measure up to Cigar’s 16 in a row, or the undefeated 13-start career of Snap Decision’s grandmother Personal Ensign, the feat matters given all the variables.

Snap Decision started winning July 4, 2019 with a Monmouth Park maiden hurdle score. He added three more that year – Saratoga allowance, Belmont novice stakes, Far Hills novice stakes. Shortened by the pandemic, his 2020 campaign included three starts and as many wins – an open stakes at Great Meadow in June and two novice tallies at Saratoga in July and August – before being written out of the fall condition book. Back for more in 2021, the 7-year-old dominated the Temple Gwathmey Hurdle Handicap May 1.

He’s run 17 7/8 miles, and jumped 70 or so fences (I’m not adding those up), without losing. And if he wins Saturday, he’ll tie a record set by a one-of-a-kind American jumper.

Bred in Virginia by Edward Stephenson, Thrice Worthy finished eighth in his debut at Pimlico in 1978 – Spectacular Bid won the race, on his way to the Hall of Fame. Trained by Eddie Gaudet, Thrice Worthy won his next start and six of 17 – including Penn National’s Coal Cracker Stakes – as a 3-year-old in 1979. At 4, he made 16 trips to the post and won twice. Gaudet sold the horse to Jonathan Sheppard at the end of the 1980 season, and Sheppard brought on owner Will Farish. Thrice Worthy went after steeplechasing like a squirrel on a walnut – winning his first start by 35 lengths and running the 1981 table to include stakes wins at Radnor, Delaware Park and Saratoga. He returned in 1982 and won four more, then won his first start of 1983 to make it nine.

Nobody in modern history won more. Not Good Night Shirt (seven), not McDynamo (six), not Flatterer (five). The great Elkridge, who won 31 jump races, never won more than four in a row. Timber great Saluter won six straight. Quick Pitch, champion of 1967, won six in a row. Ancestor, champion of 1956, won five. Tuscalee, who won a record 37 jump races, captured 10 in 1966 – but he lost three and could only put together four in a row.

Maybe there’s one out there, but nine is the accepted record – to the best of anyone’s research capability.

A blazing front-runner, Thrice Worthy impressed anyone who saw him.

“He was by far the best 2-mile to 2 1/4-mile horse I ever rode,” said four-time champion jockey John Cushman, aboard for all nine wins, in 2008. “He could not get beat at that distance. He was just fast; a tearaway. He was quick at his fences and I would just never move on him. Never. I'll never forget him. He would go out and try so hard every time – he would give 120 percent.”

The streak finally ended in the Carolina Cup in April 1983. Thrice Worthy won twice more over jumps that year, including Saratoga’s Lovely Night under 164 pounds but soundness issues kept him from becoming a champion. Brought back in 1984, he won twice more over jumps – at Fair Hill in May and in Delaware Park’s Indian River in September.

He finished with 13 wins in 20 starts over jumps, another 12 wins on the flat and total earnings of $309,115. Retired to Farish’s farm in Texas, Thrice Worthy later wound up with Sally Nims in Kentucky, where the original plan was to make him an eventer but ultimately he became a valued mentor for younger horses and a much-loved regular at Nims’ Dogwood Springs Farm. He died in 2008 at age 32.

Snap Decision doesn’t do it like Thrice Worthy, preferring to come from behind as opposed to lead the way, but he’s built his own reputation while climbing through steeplechasing’s ranks for Bruton Street-US and trainer Jack Fisher. He's won eight of 10 (by 70 lengths; one win was by 38 1/2) and earned $308,400. 

The son of Hard Spun had his brush with greatness as a flat horse for Phipps Stable and Shug McGaughey – winning twice in 18 starts and running into future Horse of the Year Bricks And Mortar in a Belmont Park allowance (Bricks And Mortar first; Snap Decision three-quarters of a length back in second as the favorite) and in Saratoga’s Hall of Fame Stakes (Bricks And Mortar first; Snap Decision fourth) in 2017. Bruton Street partner Charlie Fenwick helped organize a $75,000 purchase as a hurdle prospect in 2018 (Mr. Buff won Snap Decision’s last start for McGaughey). Second in his first two jump starts in April and May 2019 (behind next-out winners Corky Lemon and Markhan), Snap Decision hasn’t lost since.

Graham Watters rode him in the Temple Gwathmey win and like Willie McCarthy and Sean McDermott before, came away impressed.

“I was blown away with him, how much he can do and how little he was doing underneath me, with his ears pricked,” Watters said. “You’re sitting on a different animal. He’s not a horse.”

Not any horse, anyway.

The Kentucky-bred makes his Grade 1 debut in Saturday’s $100,000 feature, but don’t hold that against him. There were no Grade 1 stakes to run in last fall, and he could extend his novice condition because of that July (as opposed to April) maiden win. Snap Decision won four novice stakes – the last two under 162 and 165 pounds at Saratoga last summer. He’s made two starts in open company, a 4 1/2-length win in the David Semmes at Great Meadow last June and a 9-length runaway in the Gwathmey to start 2021.

He gets a chance to make history Saturday.

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More about Thrice Worthy.

 

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