Exciting Finish at the 2013 Iroquois Steeplechase

Article & photos by Nancy & Tommy Brannon

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The second Saturday in May means to Nashvillians and mid-southerners what the first Saturday in May means to folks in Louisville, Kentucky – race day! Held annually at Percy Warner Park in Brentwood, this year’s 72nd running of the Iroquois Steeplechase provided one of the most exciting finishes one could ever imagine.

The last race of the day, the 3-mile Iroquois over national fences, held a field of seven, with William Pape’s Divine Fortune, making a second try for the win, and leading over the last hurdle, just a shoulder ahead of Demonstrative. It looked like this year would be the year for the Jonathan Sheppard trained gelding to win, with jockey Darren Nagle in the irons. Barreling down the homestretch to the finish line, Demonstrative began to gain on Divine Fortune until the two were neck and neck. Then at the last moment, Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Demonstrative edged past Divine Fortune in a “photo finish” to win the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois by a head, leaving Divine Fortune in second place for the second year in a row. Winning Trainer Richard Valentine and winning jockey Robert Walsh shared the glory of the victory! Demonstrative is a great grandson of Triple Crown winner Secretariat.

It was an uplifting ending to a perfect race day, cloudy in the morning and sunny in the afternoon with cool temperatures. The rain had not over-soaked the turf, so the race conditions were nearly ideal. An estimated 25,000 spectators enjoyed a delightful day at the races, picnicking and partying. Last year’s race left a pall on the crowd as the Iroquois winner Arcadius collapsed near the finish line after winning the race. A statue near the stables memorializes the great Thoroughbred.

Prior to the Iroquois is the traditional parade of foxhounds, formerly the Iroquois hounds, but in more recent years the Longreen foxhounds. Susan Walker, MFH-huntsman, flanked by Whippers-In Ed Apple and Jessica Haste, paraded the hounds before the grandstands, with Walter Foster blowing the hunt horn into the microphone so the audience could hear the “call to the hounds.”

The next to last race of the day, the Mason Houghland Memorial Timber Stakes, could have been the “home town boy does good” stakes. Nashville-area jockey Gus Dahl wasn’t worried as he piloted Harold Via, Jr.’s Worried Man to victory,  making Trainer Jack Fisher’s day! Worried Man passed two-time Iroquois champion Tax Ruling at the next to last hurdle; then it was easy sailing from there on. Dahl, surrounded at the finish by beaming middle-Tennessee friends, was quick to credit Franklin trainers Karen and Johnny Gray for giving him a start in the sport. Johnny and Karen are Huntsman and First Whipper-In, respectively, with Hillsboro Hounds and have been training steeplechase horses for over 30 years.

As with the Kentucky Derby, showy hats are a feature of the Iroquois, with a local boutique offering prizes for best of show in several categories.

The first race of the day was the $15,000 Guilford Dudley, Jr. Memorial Flat Race, sponsored by Kentucky Downs. Irvin Naylor’s Jamarjo, ridden by Paddy Young, came from near the back of the pack to win the purse.

There were so many entries in the Maiden Hurdle race, (17) this year, that the George Sloan and John Sloan, Sr. Sport of Kings Race had to be divided. The second race of the day was division I and the sixth race was division II. Danielle Hodsdon, one of the few female steeplechase jockeys, piloted Rose Marie Bogley’s Labonte to win Division I. Richard Valentine was the winning trainer. Division II saw Woodslane Farm’s Sharp Numbers with Sean Flanagan aboard easily taking the win after leading the pack from the middle of the race.

The Bright Hour Amateur Hurdle for 4-year-olds, ridden by amateur or apprentice riders, was won by Augustin Stables’ Rainiero, with jockey Mark Beecher up, trained by Richard Valentine. Cuse dumped his rider at fence 7 and ran rider less toward the finish line. Just after passing the last fence, he made a quick left turn and jumped the paddock gate headed back to the barn area. Luckily, race personnel caught him before he got too far away.

The Marcellus Frost, sponsored by Franklin Kubota and Horse Supply, was won by Mrs. S. K. Johnston, Jr.’s Mr. Hot Stuff. Mr. Hot Stuff also ran in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes in 2009. He also won Best Turn Out for his race.

The Margaret Currey Henley Stakes for fillies and mares was a tight race from the last hurdle to the finish with Well Fashioned and Kisser N Run battling it out to the wire. Just before the finish line, Well Fashioned was behind by a shoulder, but raced ahead of Kisser N Run to win the stakes. Cubist, who had been leading, had a fall at the next to last fence, dumping jockey Darren Nagle, who was unhurt.

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