Multiple Grade I-winning steeplechaser Tax Ruling tries to make history Saturday with a three-peat in the Iroquois at Nashville, Tenn. Thirteen horses have won the $150,000 race, first run in 1941, twice in a row. None succeeded in the three-peat.
Good Night Shirt couldn’t do it, Sur La Tete couldn’t do it, Rowdy Irishman, Mistico, Victorian Hill, Census, some of the game’s true stars could not win three consecutive runnings of the circuit’s longest – and some day most demanding – hurdle race. The Iroquois goes 3 miles, because it always has. The course finishes uphill, because it always has. The purse wasn’t always six figures, but the race was always on everyone’s short list of races to win – that will never change.
Tax Ruling tries to put all that into perspective and land the most important race of his career Saturday against five others. The 9-year-old arrived in Nashville early this morning and appears ready to defend in his first start of 2012.
"He’s doing really well," said trainer Brianne Slater Wednesday. "He’s had his last work, his last everything, the rest is up to him. It’s a good sign when he’s absolutely crazy to ride, and he tries to buck everyone off in the mornings now. Physically, he’s ready to run as he’s run there before. I worry whether he’s going to be fit enough for that last little bit against some good horses who have had a jump run this year."
Truthfully, Slater worries about everything so . . . but a repeat of his 2010 or 2011 effort should win the race. Nationbuilder and Pierrot Lunaire are absolute stayers who don’t mind the trip. Arcadius and Divine Fortune are quality horses, but neither is proven at 3 miles. The former was beaten 6 lengths when third in the 2011 Iroquois while the latter has never tried the distance. Decoy Daddy won over the course at 2 miles last year.
They stand between Tax Ruling and history. Here’s a glance at what happened when previous horses attempted the three-timer at Nashville:
YEAR HORSE WHAT HAPPENED?
2007-08: Good Night Shirt; Second to Pierrot Lunaire in 2009.
2005-06: Sur La Tete; Second to Good Night Shirt in 2007.
1998-99: Rowdy Irishman; Last of six behind Pinkie Swear in 2000.
1993-94: Mistico; Didn’t run in 1995, finished third in 1996.
1991-92: Victorian Hill; Fifth behind Mistico in 1993. Third in 1994 and 1995.
1985-86: Uncle Edwin*; Fourth behind Flatterer in 1987. Also won in 1982; only three-time winner.
1983-84: Census; Didn’t run in 1985. Second in 1986.
1978-79: Owhata Chief; Didn’t run in 1980. Second to Uncle Edwin in 1982.
1971-72: Mabrouk; Second to He’s Trouble in 1973.
1967-68: Appollon; Didn’t run in 1969.
1954-55: Ginny Bug; Second to Jarrin John in 1956.
1947-48: Bluish; Fifth behind Fatal Interview in 1949.
1941-42: Rockmayne; Unavailable, but not in first three in 1943.
A little more on Tax Ruling:
Dk. B./Br. g. 9, Dynaformer-Fantastic Find, Mr. Prospector. Bred by Phipps Stable in Kentucky. Owner: Irv Naylor. Trainer: Brianne Slater (Pennsylvania). Finished second to Black Jack Blues in 2011 Eclipse Award voting after winning two (both Grade I) of four starts. Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey as a 2-year-old, but was sold before making a start. He’s gone through four trainers since then, but has won six races and earned almost $400,000 since switching to jumps. Won the Iroquois twice, the Colonial Cup and a novice stakes. He thrives at long distances like the Iroquois’ 3 miles. He carries a long line of Phipps breeding. His dam won a Grade I and is from the family of Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Dancing Spree among others and champion Heavenly Prize among others. Tax Ruling’s half-sister, Finder’s Fee earned $700,000 and won multiple Grade I stakes. Another half-sister, Freedom Of Speech, produced $500,000 winner T D Vance. Yet another half-sister, Indy Pick, is the dam of 2012 Kentucky Derby starter Optimizer.
And a little more on Saturday’s Iroquois:
The 3-mile, $150,000 race is the last of six on the card at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tenn. Post time for the first is 1 p.m. with the day’s racing worth $400,000. The standout Iroquois field also includes Arcadius, Divine Fortune, Nationbuilder (all three from the barn of Jonathan Sheppard), Decoy Daddy (J.W. Delozier) and Pierrot Lunaire (Bruce Miller). The day’s undercard races include the 2012 debut of champion filly/mare Sweet Shani in the $50,000 Margaret Henley Stakes, and a $25,000 maiden hurdle that drew millionaire Researcher and former flat stakes horse En Fuego in a field of nine.