Steeplechase Notebook

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We’re running down news from all over this morning, after a few days out of the office, and there’s plenty.

Pierrot Lunaire wins Eclipse Award

Decided by 17 votes, the race for the steeplechase Eclipse Award of 2012 went to Pierrot Lunaire in a photo finish over Demonstrative – 116-99. Three others received a single first-place vote with 36 voters abstaining.

Owned by Tennessean Mary Ann Houghland and trained by former champion jockey Blythe Miller Davies, the son of War Chant won two Grade 1 stakes in the fall to lead all steeplechasers in earnings with $253,000. Pierrot Lunaire made his career in 2012, halting a losing streak of more than three years with a win in the $150,000 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park in September and backed that up with a victory in the year’s richest race, the $250,000 Grand National, at Far Hills in October. Bernie Dalton rode the Kentucky-bred to both wins.

Pierrot Lunaire was bred in Kentucky by Skymarc Farm, but raced on the flat in France before switching to England and jump racing with leading trainer Paul Nicholls. Briefly considered a top-class horse, he won a quality novice hurdle at Aintree in 2008. Later that year, he fell twice including the Stan James Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. In 2009, he was well beaten in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham before being sold to Houghland’s late husband Calvin for a go at his hometown race the Iroquois. The import upset champion Good Night Shirt in the 3-mile classic, but didn’t win again until 2012 – losing nine consecutive races.

Pierrot Lunaire skipped the season-ending Colonial Cup, which Demonstrative won in a thriller to make a claim for the championship as well. Owned by Virginian Jacqueline Ohrstrom and trained by Richard Valentine, Demonstrative won three times in 2012 – the Jonathan Kiser Memorial novice stakes and Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga and the Colonial Cup. His $209,000 in earnings trailed only Pierrot Lunaire, who defeated Demonstrative in the Grand National.

For more on Pierrot Lunaire, see Daily Racing Form’s Eclipse profile by ST’s Joe Clancy and Daily Racing Form’s pedigree analysis by Nicole Russo.


Betting comes to the Gold Cups

Punters will have an extra chance to wager on steeplechasing in 2013 as the Virginia (May) and International (October) Gold Cup meets plan to offer full pari-mutuel wagering. The move brings to three the number of National Steeplechase Association meets (with Fair Hill) to offer betting. All steeplechases held at racetracks offer wagering.

Colonial Downs is the only pari-mutuel track in Virginia, but a provision in the state’s wagering law allows for betting at a race meet with tax-exempt status. The Gold Cups are both run as non-profit fundraisers for local charities. Much like the Morven Park Races of several years ago, the race meets can have betting with approval of the racing commission. Organizers are reviewing proposals, including one each from United Tote and the Colonial Downs EZ Horseplay, for the wagering functions.

 The Virginia Gold Cup, held on Kentucky Derby Day, annually attracts a crowd of 50,000 spectators with the International Gold Cup, set for Oct. 20, hosting a slightly smaller crowd each year.

 For more, see the Fauquier Times-Democrat.


Pierrot Lunaire tops theoretical handicap

NSA handicapper Bill Gallo agreed with the Eclipse voters, ranking Pierrot Lunaire slightly ahead of Demonstrative in the annual Theoretical Handicap. Announced Jan. 14, the list includes all horses which placed in a steeplechase stakes (novice or open) during the season.

Gallo assigned Pierrot Lunaire 162 pounds, two more than Demonstrative. The 2011 champion and highweight Black Jack Blues was ranked third at 158, followed by Arcadius (156) and Divine Fortune (154). In an example of how much Pierrot Lunaire improved in 2012, Gallo assigned 148 pounds in 2011.

 The top 10 (with weight): Pierrot Lunaire  (162), Demonstrative (160), Black Jack Blues (158), Arcadius (156), Divine Fortune (154), Spy in the Sky (152), Decoy Daddy (150), Via Galilei (150), Charminster (148), Country Cousin (148). For the complete list, see National Steeplechase Association.


Season to start with Charleston Trials in March

The 2013 NSA season will get off to an early start with the first running of the Charleston Trials in Charleston, S.C. on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.

 The race meet, held on the course where NSA races take place in the fall, is essentially a point-to-point with two jump races and three flat races scheduled. The races will not offer purse money or count toward a horse’s record, in much the same way the Aiken Trials work for flat horses in Aiken, S.C. each year. The day will help Charleston test the waters for a full spring meet in the future, and give horsemen an added stepping stone toward the NSA season, which starts the following week in Aiken (March 23) and continues to the Carolina Cup (March 30).