Irv Naylor’s stay away from the top of the National Steeplechase Association owners standings was a brief one – a year to be exact – and how he got the title back is a bit more complex than his straightforward explanation.
“Every now and then a blind hog finds an acorn,” Naylor said Tuesday from his home in York, Pa.
Naylor’s and his team’s good eye for horseflesh make them far from blind. They did get a little pudgy – in a good way of course – after another strong season in 2014. Naylor finished atop the owner standings by earnings and wins for the 2014 season that concluded with the Colonial Cup Nov. 15 in Camden, S.C. His horses won 17 races, nine more than the runner-up, from 92 starts and earned $531,840, more than $150,000 more than the runner-up. Naylor’s 2014 haul was also nearly $30,000 more than last year when he finished second on the standings to Bill Pape.
“It was a good year because we were not only prolific in our winnings but we ended up with sound horses,” Naylor said. “I don’t think we had more than one horse that had more than a slight bow and we’ll have him back by the end of next year. It was very satisfying. We have excellent horses, excellent riders, excellent trainers and we try very hard to perform as well as we can.”
Naylor once again was active on all levels of the game, with the stable developing younger prospects, claiming horses and top-tier stakes competitors.
Address Unknown was the leader among those carrying Naylor’s green, yellow and white colors, winning three of four starts with one second as a first-year novice for trainer Cyril Murphy. The 7-year-old English-bred son of Oasis Dream started the season a maiden after a career in distance races on the flat overseas and drubbings in the John’s Call Stakes going 13 furlongs and Grade 3 Valedictory going 14 in North America.
Address Unknown won a 2 1/4-mile maiden in May at Fair Hill and added an allowance-optional victory less than a month later at Monmouth Park. Second to Schoodic in the Michael G. Walsh Novice at Saratoga, Address Unknown won the William Entenmann Memorial Hurdle in September at Belmont Park in his final start of 2014.
“His address is now known,” Naylor said.
Another well-known commodity of Naylor’s to achieve success in 2014 was the ageless Decoy Daddy. The 12-year-old won his fourth Noel Laing Hurdle Stakes in 2014, adding his 1 3/4-length victory over Spy in the Sky to previous victories in the Montpelier fixture in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Decoy Daddy also finished second in the Laing in 2012.
Decoy Daddy also won a pair of Grade 3 hurdle stakes in 2014 – repeat wins in the Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg and National Hunt Cup at Radnor – to finish the season undefeated in three starts.
“The one that was certainly the most encouraging and that made everybody feel so good was Decoy Daddy,” Naylor said. “He’s fabulous. … He’ll be back (in 2015). He’s a sweet old horse and he loves to do what he’s doing.”
Naylor’s other top performers were Bittersweetheart, a 7-year-old mare who won a pair of stakes and earned $84,000; For Non Stop, an allowance winner who was third in the Grade 1 Iroquois; and Able Deputy, winner of the Grade 3 Zeke Ferguson Memorial this fall at Great Meadow.
Naylor pegs Able Deputy as one to watch in 2015. Considering all of his success – four leading owner titles in the last five years – it might be wise to factor in more than just one.
“We start with good horses and we train them well,” Naylor said. “The rest falls in the category of performance. If you have a good horse that’s been trained well, if you put him in the right length of race – if he’s a 3-mile horse you don’t want to be running him in 7-furlong races. So you’ve got to pick his races and if you do that you’re going to have some success.
“Every win is a blessing. Not only for the horse and the rider, but it usually carries some amount of financial reward, which is always welcome.”
The Rest of the Story
Naylor was the runaway leader by starts, wins and earnings, but several other owners enjoyed fruitful seasons in 2014.
Jacqueline Ohrstrom ranked second on the earnings table at $381,175, a total almost entirely funded by probable Eclipse Award winner and 2014 NSA earnings leader Demonstrative. The 7-year-old Elusive Quality gelding banked $362,500 in 2014 thanks to three straight Grade 1 victories in the Turf Writers, Lonesome Glory and Grand National, along with a second in the Smithwick and a third to end the year in the Colonial Cup.
Bill Pape, who ended Naylor’s string of crowns last year, ranked third by earnings with $278,250 on the season – fueled by stakes horse Divine Fortune mainly but also picking up two wins with El Season.
Ranking second behind Naylor by victories was Perry Bolton’s and Ben Griswold IV’s Armata Stable with eight wins in 27 starts, a 29.6 percent strike rate. Armata ended the year as the leader in the timber standings and enjoyed success in hurdle and timber races.
“We had an exceptional year; we were thrilled,” Bolton said. “It was certainly our most impressive year as an NSA owner because we ranked at the top of the timber racing, which we’re very proud of because we focus on timber racing. We do have hurdle horses on occasion and we had a winner at Saratoga. It was a good year when you look at it. We had eight winners and nobody else but Irv had that many.”
Rudyard K was purchased out of a second in the Marcellus Frost Hurdle at the Iroquois Steeplechase in Nashville with hopes of landing that all-important victory at Saratoga and did just that, taking an allowance early in the meet for trainer Todd Wyatt and jockey Ross Geraghty. The 5-year-old Ohio-bred son of Kipling went to the sidelines after that victory with a tendon problem, ending a promising start for his new connections. Wyatt and Bolton hope to get Rudyard K back by Saratoga 2015.
Wyatt is one of four trainers with horses for Armata, along with Alicia Murphy, Kathy Neilson and Elizabeth Voss.
Murphy trains Cornhusker, Armata’s most successful timber horse for 2014, who won two of five starts and earned $50,300. Cornhusker’s biggest win came at the Iroquois Steeplechase when he won the Mason Houghland Memorial. He also won an open timber at Middleburg in the spring and finished the season with a second at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup.
Owners who tied for third on the win table with seven – Gill Johnston and Maggie Bryant – also ranked third and fourth, respectively, on the earnings table.
Johnston’s stable won seven races from 31 starts with six seconds and two thirds, racking up $247,600.
“I lucked out this year,” Johnston said. “My horses performed well. … This has been the best year in quite a while, thanks mainly to one horse that did really well. We weren’t expecting him to do that well. You can note that he ran in $20,000 claimers at the beginning of the season. So go figure, you never know.”
The horse Johnston is referring to is Syros, who raced in claiming company over jumps twice and once on the flat in his 10 starts in 2014. He won two of those races, in a $20,000 maiden claimer over hurdles at Great Meadow and a $35,000 open claimer going 1 1/2 miles on the flat in mid-June at Belmont Park.
The 6-year-old son of Dynaformer, trained by 2014 leading NSA conditioner Jack Fisher, also won an allowance race at Saratoga and ended the season with back-to-back placings in the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills and the AFLAC Supreme Hurdle at Pine Mountain. Syros ranked sixth on the horses by earnings list with a 2014 bankroll of $90,600. When his flat win is factored in his record stood at 10-3-3-2 with earnings of $122,400.
“I bought him as part of a package deal from Christophe Clement,” Johnston said. “When you buy horses from him up there, especially when they’re Dynaformers, he likes to say he was saving them for the jumps, although I haven’t seen any come out of there recently, maybe they’re all gone.”
Fisher also trains Broxbourne, a two-winner in 2014 and one of three Johnston runners ranked among the leading 24 earners this season. The other is Awesome Pearl, purchased at the Tattersalls Newmarket fall sales in 2012 and the winner of the Jonathan Kiser Novice at Saratoga.
Awesome Pearl also got off to a relatively humble start for Johnston, finishing fifth and fourth in maiden races in the spring of 2013 before winning at Great Meadow later that fall for trainer Richard Valentine.
“I give Richard the credit for buying him over at Tattersalls in Newmarket,” Johnston said. “I know he told me after the fact, but Bernie Dalton, who rode him at Fair Hill the first year he got him, turned to Richard after and said, ‘this horse can’t even get out of his own way, if he ever wins a $10,000 claimer you’ll be lucky.’ Richard didn’t tell me that until after the fact, but I guess we’ve done pretty well with him. … He’s got a little leg issue now, but hopefully he’ll be back bigger and stronger.”
Bryant, currently in the midst of a breakthrough season and on her way to tripling her stable’s earnings for flat and steeplechase horses from last year, ranked fifth on the NSA standings by earnings with $182,600. The stable won seven races from 40 starts with seven seconds and eight thirds, a strong 55 percent top-three strike rate.
Veteran Grade 1 winner Gustavian led the way with $36,000 in earnings despite not winning. The 8-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway finished second in his only two starts – the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey and the Grade 1 Iroquois – before injury derailed his season.
Dakota Slew led the way among Bryant’s timber horses, winning the National Sporting Library and Museum Cup at Middleburg and finishing second in the International Gold Cup at Great Meadow in back-to-back starts this fall. The 7-year-old son of Slew City Slew added $32,600 to Bryant’s overall total.
“We had some nice horses and some not-so-nice ones as well, but we can forget those,” said Cindy Tucker, Bryant’s racing manager. “Dakota Slew has had his ups and downs with timber, but if we can just keep getting the miles on him and get a consistent rider, we can move forward with him. Darren (Nagle) seems to be able to commit to him now. We’ve always thought a lot of him as a timber horse; he’s just taken a long time to grow up.”
Tucker said that Bryant, whose stable was bolstered by the success of Grade 1 Travers Stakes winner V. E. Day on the flat, has several promising prospects for the 2015 season in Plated, Smart Rush and King’s Giant. All three were maiden winners this fall, including King’s Giant in his debut over hurdles.
“Actually King’s Giant won a couple races for us on the flat as well,” Tucker said. “Perhaps he has not lived up to what he should have done; he’s out of Kingmambo’s full-sister and he’s by Giant’s Causeway. I had a little more hope than jump racing for him, but he won some allowance races for us on the flat and was useful, paid his bills and now he seems to like the jumping game. That was his first start the other day.”
Rounding out the top 10 owners by earnings for 2014 were Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard ($158,750) in sixth, Armata in seventh, Rodman Moorhead III in eighth ($149,700, with three wins and three seconds in six starts), Sheila Williams ($142,300) in ninth and Andre Brewster ($120,350) in 10th.
The 10 leading owners by wins were Naylor (17), Armata (eight), Johnston and Bryant (seven each), Pape (six), George Mahoney’s Rosbrian Farm (five), Ohrstrom and Williams (four each) and Moorhead, Brewster, Woodslane and Kinross Farm (three each).
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Photos: Jacqueline Ohrstrom, NSA’s second leading owner by earnings. Gill Johnston, with trainer Jack Fisher, finishes fourth on earnings list and tied for third by wins. Tod Marks Photos.