By Don Clippinger
Bruton Street-US’s Scorpiancer landed over the last fence of Saturday’s $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) in stride with Surprising Soul and slowly pulled away to a gritty one-length victory in the National Steeplechase Association’s richest spring race.
Bruton Street-US’s Moscato finished a fast-closing third in a field of six, a head behind Surprising Soul, and Buttonwood Farm’s All the Way Jose finished fourth, 13 ½ lengths farther back. The Irish-bred Scorpiancer provided his trainer, Jack Fisher, with a fourth win on the Iroquois card at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park on a warm and occasionally rainy afternoon.
Ridden by Sean McDermott, Scorpiancer ran the Calvin Houghland Iroquois’ three miles in 5:43 4/5 on turf rated as good.
Scorpiancer had closed out his 2017 Eclipse Award-winning season with a 16-length victory in the Iroquois classic, had missed the 2018 season, and was pulled up in his comeback race, Middleburg Spring’s Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 2), which was won impressively by Moscato on April 20.
The unasked and unanswered question was whether the 10-year-old Scorpiancer had lost too many steps to be competitive again at the top level. Although he had the highest NSA rating among the six starters, Moscato would have been considered the horse to beat among Fisher’s four starters.
The Temple Gwathmey effort and three weeks made a big difference in his conditioning, and Scorpiancer’s staying power carried him to the finish line in a valiant effort. The victory was by no means easy, unlike two years earlier, and it took all of McDermott’s considerable skills to get him to the line in front of Wendy Hendriks’ dead-game Surprising Soul.
Bruton Street’s Jaleo, third in the Temple Gwathmey, went out first at the start, but All the Way Jose wanted the lead more, took over after the first few fences, and opened a six-length lead as the field passed under the wire for the first time.
Surprising Soul, which trained in Camden over the winter, shadowed the leader while Scorpiancer and Moscato brought up the rear for the first circuit of the course. McDermott tipped his mount to the outside and closed the gap slightly as the field jumped the backstretch fences for the last time.
Approaching the final two fences, Scorpiancer moved forward on the outside as Moscato joined the race and All the Way Jose tired slightly to surrender the lead to Surprising Soul two fences out.
Ross Geraghty powered Surprising Soul over the final two hurdles, and Scorpiancer pulled abreast as they jumped the last. Scorpiancer responded to McDermott’s entreaties and edged away to the finish and his second Calvin Houghland Iroquois victory.
City Dreamer takes Marcellus Frost
Fisher’s hot season continued in the big-purse races when Riverdee Stable’s City Dreamer made a huge run through Iroquois’ stretch to nail Help From Heaven on the money and win the $100,000 Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle by a neck.
New arrivals in America, Hudson River Farms’ Winston C and Irv Naylor’s Chief Justice finished third and fourth, respectively, in a field of nine novices, or horses in their first seasons of racing over fences.
Carrington Holdings’ Boss Man went to the lead immediately after the start and led The Fields Stable’s Barnacle Bill for the first two miles of the 2 ¼-mile Marcellus Frost. City Dreamer, ridden by Sean McDermott, was in midfield and somewhat rank into the first run down Percy Warner’s backstretch.
The running began in earnest on the final turn, with Nashville resident Virginia Lazenby’s Help From Heaven making progress under Ross Geragthy and Winston C making his move on the outside.
Barnacle Bill moved to the front two fences out, but Help From Heaven took the lead over the last. McDermott went to work on City Dreamer after the last, and they closed relentlessly on the far outside to grab the second win of the day for Fisher.
Winston C, ridden by Thomas Garner, finished a half-length farther back in third, and Chief Justice was another half-length back in fourth with Davy Russell riding for trainer leading Irish trainer Gordon Elliott.
City Dreamer, who had finished fourth in the Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase two weeks earlier in Charlotte, ran the Marcellus Frost distance in 4:23 flat on turf rated as good.
Fisher’s first win on an occasionally stormy afternoon came a race earlier in the $35,000 Bright Hour ratings handicap when Bruton Street-US’s Lord Justice made a powerful move two out under Michael Mitchell, led by two lengths at the last, and won by 4 ½ lengths.
Rosbrian Farm’s Stooshie, trained by Elliott and ridden by three-time champion Irish jockey Russell, finished second, three lengths ahead of Tantivy Racing’s Motivational, who had cut the early pace. Lord Justice ran the race’s three miles in 5:50 3/5.
Fisher picked up his third win of the afternoon when his mother Dolly Fisher’s Schoodic easily won the $25,000 Mason Houghland Iroquois over timber. Ballybristol Farm’s Mercoeur finished second, and Hudson River Farms’ Codrington College was third. Hadden Frost rode the winner.
Elliott picked up his first Iroquois victory with Markham in a $40,000 maiden hurdle. Always well placed under Russell, Markham took the lead at the second-to-last fence and drew clear in the stretch to a 4½-length victory.
Bruton Street’s Snap Decision made a sharp late move to finish second, and Riverdee Stable’s Archanova was third, another 1 ½-length farther back, in a field of 10. Owned by Rosbrian Farm and Half Married Syndicate, Markham ran the 2¼-mile distance in 4:20 3/5.
Wigwam Baby wins Margaret Currey Henley
Owner-trainer Jonathan Sheppard’s Wigwam Baby, always full of run under Aaron Sinnott, seized the lead five fences from the finish in the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley for fillies and mares and easily turned back a challenge from Joseph Fowler Jr.’s Down Royal to win by 1¼ lengths.
The Fields Stable’s Sarah Joyce, seeking to win the Henley for a third straight year, went to the lead at the break and held on well for third, three-quarters of a length behind Down Royal. Owner-trainer-jockey Bethany Baumgardner’s Mavourneen finished fourth in a field of 11.
Bred by Sheppard and Bill Pape, Wigwam Baby had previously finished sixth in a ratings handicap at The Cup Runneth Over meet in Camden, S.C., on April 6. The eight-year-old Langfuhr mare ran the 2 1/4-mile distance in 4:23 4/5.
The Henley was the second victory of the afternoon for Sheppard, who was represented at Iroquois by assistant trainer Keri Brion. In the afternoon’s first race, KMSN Stable’s Sportswear won a $50,000 allowance hurdle by a half-length with a strong late run under Gerard Galligan.
One of the first horses by undefeated Frankel to race over fences in the United States, Sportswear remained unbeaten over fences following an initial victory in a Middleburg Spring maiden hurdle on April 20.
End of the spring season approaches: The 2019 National Steeplechase Association spring campaign has two more stops beginning with Saturday’s 89th annual Radnor Hunt Races in Malvern, Pa.On Saturday, May 25, the 85th annual Fair Hill Spring Races in Fair Hill, Md., brings the curtain down on the 14-meet spring campaign.