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Divine Fortune opens defense of Eclipse with Nashville victory
McCarthy rides three winners in Music City
Divine Fortune 3.jpeg
DIVINE FORTUNE CHARGES TOWARD the finish line, with Willie McCarthy in tow, en route to winning Saturdays $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois, the first and only Grade I steeplechase of the National Steeplechase Associations 2014 spring campaign. - photo by Photo courtesy of Catherine French

Displaying the brilliant turn of foot that won him last year’s Eclipse Award, Bill Pape’s Divine Fortune set all the pace in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) and danced away Saturday to a 3 1/4-length victory over Magalen O. Bryant’s Gustavian in the featured race of the 73rd annual Iroquois Steeplechase in Nashville.
Part-time Camden resident and Ireland native Willie McCarthy rode Divine Fortune and added to his lead in the jockey standings with his third victory on a pleasantly warm afternoon at Percy Warner Park. He previously had won that day’s $35,000 Bright Hour Stakes with Tempt Me Alex and the $25,000 George Sloan and John Sloan Sr. Sport of Kings maiden hurdle with Mystery Jack.
Divine Fortune’s victory in his first 2014 start over fences atoned for a narrow defeat in last year’s Calvin Houghland Iroquois, in which Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Demonstrative overtook Pape’s top runner and won by a neck. Demonstrative failed to make his usual late run and finished sixth.
Irv Naylor’s promising import For Non Stop finished third, and 2009 Iroquois winner Pierrot Lunaire took the fourth spot, and Italian Wedding was fifth.
Trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard, Divine Fortune had used his front-end speed to defeat an all-star field in last fall’s $250,000 Grand National (Gr. 1) at Far Hills, N.J., a race in which Gustavian finished second.
Now 11, the Pape-Sheppard homebred ran the Calvin Houghland Iroquois’ three miles in 5:39.40 on firm turf and jumped to the top of the 2014 earnings table with the $90,000 first-place purse.
In the race preceding the Calvin Houghland Iroquois, Armata Stables’ Cornhusker took over the lead when early leader Rugged Rascal pulled up in the $50,000 Mason Houghland Memorial Stakes and won by 5 3/4 lengths over Naylor’s Tax Ruling, who had finished second last year. Pape’s Nationbuilder finished fourth.
Trained by Alicia Murphy and ridden by Mark Beecher, Cornhusker ran the Mason Houghland’s three miles in 6:08. The British-bred seven-year-old had entered the Iroquois timber race from a 6 1/2-length victory in the Middleburg Hunt Cup on April 19.
In the day’s opening race, the $15,000 Guilford Dudley Jr. Memorial, a 1 ½-mile run on the flat, Camden’s Bernie Dalton rode the Sheppard-conditioned Codrington College to an 11-length win.
Frost goes to Pleasant Woodman: Pleasant Woodman set all the pace and turned back a challenge from Rudyard K to win the $75,000 Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes by a neck at the Iroquois Steeplechase on Saturday.
Winner of the season-opening Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3) at the Aiken Spring Steeplechase on March 22, Pleasant Woodman put on a display of his high cruising speed and delivered the victory for Nashville resident Virginia Lazenby and Farm D’Allie Racing Stables.
Trained by Doug Fout and ridden by Gerard Galligan, Pleasant Woodman completed the Marcellus Frost’s 2 1/4 miles in 4:12.60 on firm turf at Percy Warner Park near Nashville. Finishing third was Schoodic, who previously had been undefeated over fences.
Irv Naylor’s Bittersweetheart scored a significant upset when she bested a field of stakes winners in the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley for fillies and mares. With champion jockey Paddy Young riding for his wife, trainer Leslie Young, the seven-year-old British-bred mare took command on the final turn and won by 1 1/2 lengths.
Arcadia Stable’s Take Her Tothe Top finished second, followed by Arcadia’s Opera Heroine. Both are trained by current leading trainer Jack Fisher. Kisser N Run, the reigning Life’s Illusion Filly & Mare champion, finished fourth in a full field of 11.
Bittersweetheart, who had finished fourth to Kisser N Run in the Atlanta Steeplechase’s Georgia Cup on April 19, notched her first career stakes win. She ran the Margaret Currey Henley’s 2 1/4 miles in 4:13.
Elizabeth Voss Murray, who took over training duties after the January death of her father, prominent Maryland horseman Tom Voss, collected her first stakes victory when Robert A. Kinsey’s Tempt Me Alex overtook Easy Reach at the final fence of the $35,000 Bright Hour Stakes and won by 4 1/2 lengths.
Tempt Me Alex, third in Foxfield Spring’s Daniel Van Clief Memorial allowance hurdle on April 26, was ridden by Willie McCarthy, who later won the George Sloan and John Sloan Sr. Sport of Kings maiden hurdle aboard Walk on Water Stable’s Mystery Jack, trained by Desmond Fogarty. Finishing second, 3 3/4 lengths back, was Lazenby’s Dreamin Fool.
Wyatt stays hot at Willowdale: Trainer Todd Wyatt maintained his torrid spring pace with two wins at Sunday’s Willowdale Steeplechase, including a victory by Raven’s Choice in the featured $25,000 Willowdale Steeplechase over the Kennett Square, Pa., meet’s steeplechase course.
Owned by Mrs. Cary W. Jackson, Raven’s Choice prevailed by three-quarters of a length over Jeremy Batoff’s Major Malibu after the Willowdale Steeplechase’s 3 1/2 miles. Bruton Street-US’s City Press finished third, and Irv Naylor’s Prince Ludovic was fourth. Raven’s Choice, winner of the Grand National’s Benjamin H. Murray Memorial amateur timber allowance race on April 19, ran the Willowdale Steeplechase’s distance in 7:59.80 on yielding turf under Mark Beecher.
Wyatt also scored with Armata Stables’ Brother Sy, who won the Foxhunters Chase amateur apprentice timber race under Diana Gillam. Naylor’s Amarmooq  finished second, 1 1/2 lengths back.
The Willowdale double gave Maryland-based Wyatt six wins for the 2014 season, doubling his total for all of 2013. He remained two behind 2013 co-leading trainer Jack Fisher and one ahead of Cyril Murphy, who won Willowdale’s Rose Tree Cup conditioned claiming hurdle with Naylor’s American Ladie.
Although he was blanked at Willowdale, McCarthy netted the hat trick at the Iroquois Steeplechase, including a score aboard Bill Pape’s champion Divine Fortune in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois and opened a big lead on his fellow jockeys. For the season, he has 12 wins. His closest competitor is reigning champion Paddy Young, who has five wins after single victories at Iroquois and Willowdale.