Like a baseball player hitting the ball hard – but right at fielders – Scorpiancer was due. After winning two of his first three American starts last year, the Irish-bred lost five races to begin 2016.
The streak included:
– A second in April’s Temple Gwathmey behind emerging star Rawnaq;
– A fourth to Rawnaq and Irish raiders Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon in the Grade 1 Iroquois in mid-May;
– A second as the highweight in a handicap hurdle at Fair Hill in late May;
– Another second, this time to Bob Le Beau, in the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial in early August;
– A third (because he didn’t have one of those) in the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga in late August.
Thursday, he came through in the clutch – much to the delight of his manager, er trainer, and everyone in the dugout – with a late-running score in the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park. Owned by Bruton Street-US and trained by Jack Fisher, the 7-year-old Irish-bred rallied from seventh after 2 miles to win going away by 2 1/4 lengths over Jamarjo with Charminster third as Irish-breds swept the first five places. Ridden by Sean McDermott, Scorpiancer paid $3.40 as the favorite and became the fourth Grade 1 steeplechase winner of 2016. Just two more races at that level remain, the $350,000 Grand National Oct. 15 and the $150,000 Colonial Cup Nov. 19.
Fisher was happy for his horse, who lifted his 2016 bankroll to $154,600 with the win.
“That’s what I expected when he ran the second time in Saratoga,” said the trainer. “He ran OK there that day, but for whatever reason he just didn’t fire. He was better today, but the turf was better here today and maybe the other horses weren’t quite as good.”
McDermott, aboard for the first time in a race, liked what he felt from Scorpiancer.
“I was always confident but I tried to ride him a bit closer to the pace today. I thought this galloping track would suit him more than what he has been running over in Saratoga,” said the jockey. “He’s a high-class horse and I really found out a lot about him today. He’s got speed, but a very high cruising speed, so I wouldn’t hesitate to ride him very close to the pace if I felt like I needed to.”
McDermott was aboard because Connor Hankin, co-owner Mike Hankin’s son, reported to Marine Corps officer candidate school after riding at Saratoga in July and August.
“I’m sure Connor will be happy to hear the news,” McDermott said. “And he was right, too. At Saratoga he insisted that on the day of the Turf Writers the ground was a lot quicker and firmer and this horse didn’t seem to enjoy it as much. I think that was a valid excuse now, seeing what I did today.”
Bred by Mary O’Connor, the son of Irish stallion Scorpion earned a trip to Far Hills for the $350,000 Grand National in three weeks. Division leader Rawnaq, 2-for-2 this year, awaits at level weights. Scorpiancer won a handicap hurdle at Far Hills last year, while Rawnaq finished third in the Grand National. Last fall, McDermott and Rawnaq finished second in the Grade 1 Colonial Cup so the jockey knows what he’s getting into.
“I’ve ridden both now, and I wouldn’t trade this horse,” he said. “Rawnaq is a relentless galloper, but I wouldn’t shy away from him. I like the way this horse did it today. Rawnaq ran over 2-mile hurdles and very high-class races in Ireland and was maybe just short a few gears for that. He’s a nice horse. They’re both stamina horses and they both jump well. It’s good sport, great to have them together.”
Hardrock Eleven stretches them in Entemann
One race before the Lonesome Glory, Hardrock Eleven made his pacemaker position stand up for 2 1/4 miles in the $75,000 Willian Entenmann Memorial novice stakes. Trained by Doug Fout for Gigi Lazenby, the winner was allowed to set a slow pace and then had enough to kick away from the closers in the stretch. He won by 2 1/4 lengths over Miguel Grau with Special Skills a nose back in third.
Brendan Crowley rode the winner, who paid $11 as the third choice in a repeat of his allowance win at Saratoga Sept. 1.
The winner jumped out to his right for much of the race, but was well clear of the others and did not cause any interference. Crowley admitted that the jumping form isn’t by design, but is effective – for this horse.
“I try not to interfere too much and leave him do his own thing,” said the jockey. “He’s an anxious type of horse so you always have to sit quiet on him. If you fight him, he’ll fight you back. I know he jumped out to the right but he was good at it. He did what he does best. He just gallops. I know him, so the jumping doesn’t bother me. I get him galloping, get him into is cruising speed and let him go. I try to fill him up at the corners and save enough for the end.”
Bred in Flroida by Farm III Enterprises and Off The Hook Partners, the 6-year-old raced on the flat for Lazenby’s brother, trainer David Banks, and was good enough to place in a stakes at Calder and another at Sam Houston. He finished 12th in the Grade 2 Risen Star and ninth in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes – while running with Will Take Charge, Oxbow, Palace Malice, Normandy Invasion, Mylute and others in 2013.
The Florida-bred son of Rock Hard Ten won for the third time in 12 jump starts for $155,050 in earnings.