Pierrot Lunaire upsets Good Night Shirt in Iroquois

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Recent English import Pierrot Lunaire denied steeplechase champion GoodNight Shirt a shot at history Saturday as the recent English importcame from off the pace to win the $150,000 Iroquois Steeplechase (Gr.I) at Percy Warner Park.

Owned by longtime steeplechase owner and former Iroquois chairman Calvin Houghland, Pierrot Lunaire (Chip Miller) rated deep in the compact field of six while Good Night Shirt handled the pace chores for the better part of the 3-mile distance. The winner, a 5-year-old son of War Chant, reached contention at the second-last fence, caught Good Night Shirt at the last and won by 3 lengths in 6:27 2/5 over a soft turf course. Good Night Shirt, bidding to become the first horse to win three consecutive runnings of the Iroquois, settled for second with Chivite third. Bruce Miller trained the winner, who left England May 1 and arrived at Miller’s Pennsylvania farm Tuesday.

“He’s had a busy schedule, that’s for sure,” said Bruce Miller, who won his fourth Iroquois as a trainer. “Mr. Houghland wanted a horse to run in the Iroquois and I had given up, but then we got this one. I don’t know that much about him, but he’s got a great temperament to do all this and he ate like no other horse through it all. What a great feeling.”

Trained in England by Paul Nicholls until the sale, Pierrot Lunaire had won two races over hurdles in England and raced at the Cheltenham Festival in March. He came into Saturday’s race as the unknown but left with the $90,000 winner’s share and a stake in the 2009 championship race as the year’s first Grade I winner.

Houghland, 92, rode in the first Iroquois back in 1941 and won the third running as a jockey. The 2009 victory was his fifth as an owner.

Veteran jockey Chip Miller, Bruce’s son, scored his first Iroquois win by engineering a perfect trip that conserved his horse’s energy and produced a powerful charge over the final three fences.

“Whenever your ride a race with one clear favorite, the whole idea is to beat him,” said Chip, 39. “I wanted to be conservative. You can’t come from last and win this race. I wanted to stay on good ground, but I gave up so much ground to find it. I know that made a difference. But he was game too. He came with a run.”

Good Night Shirt (who carried a seven-race winning streak into the day) failed in his attempt at history, but joined a big crowd. Twelve horses have won two consecutive runnings of the Iroquois. None have won three in a row.

NOTES: Chip Miller won the 209th race of his career, seventh on the all-time list and tops among active jump jockeys . . . The winner was bred in Kentucky by Skymarc Farm, but raced exclusivelyin England. He lost six starts on the flat but won two of eight startsover hurdles for Nicholls, England’s champion steeplechase trainer,including a victory over hurdles at Aintree last spring . . . Other stakes winners on the day were Planets Aligned ($50,000 Marcellus Frost), Dynaskill ($50,000 Margaret Henley) and Patriot’s Path ($75,000 Mason Hougland) . . . Other winners were Johann Star (training flat), Dalucci (amateur hurdle) and Tricky Me (maiden hurdle).