The Inside Rail

A barn divided…

Nah, not really, but around the Jack Fisher barn in Butler, Md., hearts were with Mr. Hot Stuff, heads, if pushed, were with Scorpiancer. The latter, with a 2-for-2 season that included a dominant win in the Grade 1 Iroquois, won the Eclipse Award as champion steeplechase horse for 2017. The former, riding a one-hit wonder in the Grand National, wound up third in the voting. The Jonathan Sheppard-trained All The Way Jose finished second, an independent between Fisher’s bookends.

“Scorpi. He’s my baby,” assistant Sandra Bauer said, Friday morning. “I love that horse.”

Quinn Scala, squarely in the Mr. Hot Stuff camp, strolled past with a set of tack for British import Gibralfaro. A week earlier, she had accepted the Lonesome Glory Award, for the sport’s leading earner, on behalf of owner Gillian Johnston and Mr. Hot Stuff. That night, Scala spoke eloquently about the stable’s mainstay. A week later, hours after the verdict was announced, she just smiled, her allegiance didn’t need explanation.

A couple of stalls from Gibralfaro, Mr. Hot Stuff might as well have been smiling. The 12-year-old stared, head high above the yoke of his green metal screen, dried mud splattered above his left eye, across his jaw, down his neck, like he ran past a paint brush, forelock draping over his white star. A win photo from his biggest moment, a nose score in the Grade 1 Grand National last October, hung above his head.

Like someone could forget (as an aside, how cool is it to hang a win photo in the barn?).

The Kentucky Derby starter and full-brother to Travers winner Colonel John provided the moment of the year, nosing out Modem and All The Way Jose in a Far Hills thriller in October. It was the moment of the year, but not the year and Eclipse Awards are meant to be awarded for a year of work, not a day of work. Without the crescendo-slamming Colonial Cup to decide the title, the Eclipse Award came down to a vote and voters got it right, rewarding Irish-bred Scorpiancer for his hard-fought win in the Temple Gwathmey and his chasm-length romp in the Iroquois. Owned by Bruton Street-US, Scorpiancer won Fisher's third Eclipse – following Good Night Shirt's back-to-backs in 2007 and 2008. 

“Hot Stuff was the best on one day,” Fisher said of his 2017 stars. “But, Scorpiancer was the horse of the year.”

Scala might disagree, certainly Jonathan Sheppard’s crew would argue the merits of All The Way Jose’s spring-summer-fall campaign, but when parity reigns, sometimes horses benefit for not racing an entire season. Mr. Hot Stuff lost four times. All The Way Jose lost five times. If Scorpiancer stuck around for Saratoga, Belmont and Far Hills like his competitors, perhaps losses would have tainted his undefeated spring campaign.

That we will never know. I couldn’t ask the newly-turned 9-year-old, as he wasn’t at Fisher’s main barn in Butler, but at the trainer’s house in Monkton, turned out and recuperating from a bowed tendon after the Iroquois. He’ll be back for the fall.

Until then, the Fisher camp, including Bauer, will go with the Hot Stuff.

Watch Mr. Hot Stuff's Grand National

Watch Scorpiancer's Iroquois.