Fifteen years ago, American jump racing seemed smaller and bigger at the same time. The Season Preview edition of 2008 sure went for drama – two race meets running without National Steeplechase Association sanction, the hiring of Lou Raffetto as the new CEO of the NSA and a suspended trainer dominated the early conversation.
The rest of the news wasn’t so consequential. We checked in with horses and trainers including 2007 champion Good Night Shirt, who was racing himself around a field in Maryland after winning his first Eclipse Award – dethroning three-time champion McDynamo (who retired at the end of 2007). A year earlier, trainer Jack Fisher wasn’t expecting a championship campaign from the Maryland-bred – who won three of five and earned $314,163.
“The horse just kept surprising me,” Fisher said of the 2007 season. “I thought he was a little short at Keeneland and he ran great. At the start of the year, I thought he might be a timber horse by the end of the season.”
Jockey Willie Dowling wasn’t thinking timber, but couldn’t exactly predict The Shirt’s future.
“This horse was just a gangly horse when he was 4 and 5, but now I can barely get the tack around his girth,” Dowling said. “Sure, there’s some pressure being on him, but he’s versatile enough to do what you want to do with him. I’m really looking forward to starting the year.”
As it turned out . . . Little Everglades never returned. The Queen’s Cup did. Raffetto didn’t last three years. Ricky Hendriks served his penalty. His son won the NSA jockey championship in 2022. And Good Night Shirt authored an even better 2008 – running the table at 5-for-5 (Grade 1 rippers at Atlanta, the Iroquois, Belmont Park, Far Hills and the Colonial Cup) and earning $485,520. It will forever be a yardstick for championship campaigns. You can read more about him via this search link. But we didn’t know any of that in March 2007.
But back to the March 2008 season preview edition . . .
The 2008 stakes division also included a comebacking Sur La Tete, Best Attack, Kilbride Road, Mixed Up, Mon Villez, Orison, Orsay, Preemptive Strike, Sweet Shani and Three Carat. Planets Aligned led the novices, along with Divine Fortune, Imagina and some others. Timber fans anticipated a showdown between Miles Ahead and Irish Prince, while the division included Askim, Bubble Economy, Bug River, Private Attack and Salmo.
The ever-popular steeplechase horse lists occupied six pages. Future stars Tax Ruling and Spy In The Sky were on the maiden roster. The open-stakes list went 20 deep. The lists were supposed to help people play our Pick Six fantasy stable game, which offered $1,000 in prizes.
Sadness touched the game in the form of trainer Bruce Haynes’ death of a heart attack at 46 in January. Out of a base in Bristol, Tenn., Haynes was a fixture on the circuit from 1993 – turning $2,500 purchase Rowdy Irishman into a multiple Grade 1 winner and rival to Hall of Famer Lonesome Glory over several seasons. His family – wife Anne and sons Russell, Will and Aaron were carrying on with help from family friend and fellow trainer Mike Berryman.
Obituaries for Hall of Fame trainer Sidney Watters Jr., owner Francis “Ike” Iglehart Jr. and Alfred Smith Jr. also found space in the newspaper.
Oh, and we included an eventing section as part of our four-year experiment of connecting the sports in print. It worked, sort of, until it didn’t. As always, there were cool horses and people to write about, but finding the time to do it well became a challenge – as did finding a way to make it make financial sense.