Iroquois Steeplechase

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Article & photos by Nancy & Tommy Brannon

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The 2019 Iroquois Steeplechase had great weather conditions for the race horses, but not so much for the fans and photographers. A cloudy, misty, rainy day with temperatures in the mid to upper 60s made for very wet track conditions, and mud in the high-traffic spectator areas, but the turf held up quite well for the seven races of the day. About 25,000 attendees braved the rainy weather for Nashville’s second Saturday of May “rite of spring,” May 11th. The Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is the primary beneficiary of the Iroquois Steeplechase. This hospital is nationally recognized as a leading provider of pediatric health care services.

This 78th annual race day was champion trainer Jack Fisher’s day, winning the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois with 10-year-old Scorpiancer (IRE), Sean McDermott in the irons, a horse who had won this race in 2017 by 16 lengths. This was Fisher’s fourth win of the rainy afternoon at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tennessee, and Fisher-trained horses won or placed second in all but one race of the seven-race meet. Three horses in Fisher’s Iroquois race team are owned by Bruton Street-US, the NSA’s top owner in 2017: Scorpiancer (IRE), Jaleo (GER), and Moscato (GB). Fisher’s fourth entrant in the Iroquois was Gibralfaro (IRE), owned by Riverdee Stable.

Fisher was awarded his sixth Leading Trainer Award in January 2018 by the National Steeplechase Association (NSA), and Scopriancer was the year’s Eclipse Award winner as champion steeplechase horse.

All the Way Jose took the early lead in this seventh race and was six lengths ahead as the field passed the finish line for the first time. Surprising Soul ran a close second, with Moscato in third. But on the approach to the last two hurdles, McDermott moved Scorpiancer forward on the outside, closing the gap with Surprising Soul. In a tight finish, Scorpiancer and the Hendricks’ Surprising Soul were side by side over the last hurdle, but Scorpiancer pulled ahead before the finish line to capture a one-length victory, earning the $90,000 first place prize. Moscato was just a head behind Surprising Soul for third place, and All The Way Jose, who had led for a good deal of the race, finished fourth, 13½ lengths behind.

Sean McDermott won the Leading Rider award at the 2019 Iroquois. Speaking with reporters after the race, McDermott described his race strategy to go “wide everywhere for the better ground” when he noticed the other horses slipping on the wet turf. He said that being on the better ground helped Scorpiancer jump better. “When I got out on the better ground he floated,” McDermott said. “He really jumped well out there. I think that was the big difference, because I don’t think I would’ve got the same rhythm out of him on the inside,” McDermott told reporters.

Scorpiancer had suffered a tendon injury and missed the latter part of the 2017 season and all of the 2018 season. The Iroquois was only his second race back in competition, the first at the Temple Gwathmey in Middleburg, Virginia on April 20.

Other races of the day
In the sixth race, the Mason Houghland Memorial Timber Stakes, Fisher-trained Schoodic, owned by Mrs. John R.S. Fisher, won over Mercouer (FR), who had led for most of the three-mile race. Just after the first fence, Satish and his rider parted company, leaving this a three-horse race. Jonathan Sheppard-trained Codrington College finished third.

Jonathan Sheppard-trained Sportswear won the first race of the day, the $50,000 Green Pastures hurdle, with Gerard Galligan aboard. Fisher-trained Whitman’s Poetry finished second with Michael Mitchell in the irons.

The second race of the day, the Bright Hour hurdle, was Fisher’s first win of the day with Lord Justice (IRE), again with Mitchell riding.

Fisher won again in the third race, The Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle, with Riverdee Stable’s City Dreamer (IRE), Sean McDermott riding.

But in the fourth race, The Margaret Currey Henley Filly & Mare Hurdle, it was Jonathan Sheppard’s turn to take the win with his own Wigwam Baby, Aaron Sinnott riding.

In the fifth race, the George Sloan and John Sloan Sr. Sport of Kings Maiden Hurdle, Rosbrian Farm’s Markhan took the win, trained by Gordon Elliott, with three-time champion jockey Davy Russell in the irons. Fisher-trained Snap Decision, with Willy McCarthy riding, earned second place.

In spite of the rainy weather, most of the usual social activities associated with the Iroquois took place. There was the second annual tailgating contest and the stick horse races for aspiring jockeys, after the second race, plus the parade of the Longreen Hounds prior to the running of the Iroquois. But the usual hat contest did not happen at the race, although there were plenty of fancy hats, many by Official Milliner Christine A. Moore, being shown. But with those fancy hats and dresses came more practical footwear for many attendees – rubber boots.

The Irish horses, and people, were a dominant contention at this year’s Iroquois, too. There were 13 Irish horses in this year’s races, with two placing fourth and fifth in the first race; Lord Justice (IRE) winning the second race and City Dreamer (IRE) winning the third race, with Winston C (IRE) placing third in that race. Sarah Joyce (IRE) was third in the fourth race. Two Irish horses placed sixth and seventh in the fifth race; and the Irish horse Scorpiancer won the top race of the day.

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