Four-time Colonial Cup winner and one of the greatest American steeplechase horses of all time, Flatterer, died Thursday, April 24, at co-owner Bill Pape’s farm in Unionville, Penn.
At age 35, Flatterer ranked as one of the oldest notable horses in the history of Thoroughbred racing.
Flatterer’s exploits on the racecourse earned him four consecutive Eclipse Awards as champion steeplechase horse beginning in 1983. He was elected to the Racing Hall of Fame in 1994.
In a racing career that encompassed 51 total starts, including flat races, Flatterer won a remarkable 24 races and earned $538,708. His earnings in National Steeplechase Association races, excluding his flat and overseas winnings, totaled $421,146.
He was bred in Pennsylvania by Pape and his trainer, Jonathan Sheppard, and was raced by his breeders and bloodstock agent George Harris. He was sired by Mo Bay, a scion of the great sire Nearco through his grandsire, Turn-to. Flatterer’s dam was Horizontal, by a son of Nasrullah, by Nearco.
Last November, in a feature article in The Camden Horse magazine, on the 30th anniversary of Flatterer’s fourth Colonial Cup victory, Sheppard said he would always remember the heart and effort which Flatterer put into every race.
“I can never remember having to make excuses for him,” he said, “because he ran a disappointing race or because the ground was too soft or the ground was too hard or the race didn’t set up for him. I didn’t have to say that about him.
“He always came with his ‘A’ game. The few times he lost, he did have excuses, but they were excuses that didn’t have to do with him. The most obvious one was when he had to carry 178 pounds on extremely soft going and going two and a half miles at Middleburg. It was an almost impossible task. He still finished third. He didn’t disgrace himself.”
His pedigree had strong speed influences, especially through Nasrullah, but he was only moderately successful on the flat. In 18 starts at three in 1982, his first year of racing, Flatterer won four times and earned $45,845.
Sheppard, himself bound for the Racing Hall of Fame, transformed Flatterer to steeplechasing, where the gelding was able to carry his natural speed over long distances. The payoff was immediate and remarkable. In 1983, Flatterer swept to his first Eclipse Award with a campaign in which he swept what was then regarded as the Steeplechasing Triple Crown: the Grand National, the Temple Gwathmey, and the Colonial Cup.
He would win the Colonial Cup in Camden, in each of his championship seasons and repeated his Gwathmey victory in 1985. His 1984 season included a victory in Saratoga Race Course’s premier steeplechase race, the New York Turf Writers Cup.
In 1986, he won the Atlanta Steeplechase in April and carried an American-record 176 pounds to victory in the National Hunt Cup. In June, he was shipped to France to race in the French version of the Champion Hurdle. On a water-logged Auteuil Race Course near Paris, he finished second.
The first Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase was held that year at Fair Hill, Md., and Flatterer went into the international contest as the 4-5 prerace favorite. But he sustained a pulled muscle that morning and was scratched.
Flatterer came back strongly in 1987 and traveled to England for the Waterford Crystal Champion Hurdle. Ridden by Jerry Fishback, Flatterer made headway on Cheltenham’s uphill straight but could not overtake the great See Who Then. Flatterer finished second, about 1 1/2 lengths back.
Back home, he won the Iroquois Steeplechase at Nashville, but his bad luck in the Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase continued that fall. Sent off as the 4-5 favorite at Fair Hill, Flatterer sustained a tendon injury at the eighth of 18 fences and was pulled up. Pape and Sheppard then retired him to the trainer’s Pennsylvania farm.
He had a subsequent career as a dressage competitor and then a long retirement. He was buried in his pasture at Pape’s farm. His longevity is notable. Among well-known horses, one of the few to outlive him was Lyphard, who lived to be 36.