By Don Clippinger, National Steeplechase Association
Bruton Street-US’s Scorpiancer launched a devastating move to the lead entering the Iroquois Steeplechase’s backstretch the last time, opened a yawning lead on his opponents, and cruised home with to an overpowering 16-length victory in Saturday’s $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1).
Sonny Via’s Hinterland, making his first start in more than 20 months, finished second to give champion trainer Jack Fisher a Grade 1 exacta in the National Steeplechase Association’s richest spring race. Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu finished third, 40 lengths farther back.
Irv Naylor’s Dawalan was in contention for the first half of the three-mile race but took a bad fence coming out of the clubhouse turn the second time and was eased through the stretch by jockey Jack Doyle.
Winner of the Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3) in his first start of 2017, Irish-bred picked up his second Grade 1 win, after last fall’s Lonesome Glory Handicap. He ran the Calvin Houghland Iroquois’ three miles in 5:37 flat on ground rated as good.
Ross Geraghty picked up the mount on Andi’amu after Paddy Young fell in an earlier race and called it a day. The catch rider put the French-bred on the lead, with Scorpiancer and McDermott in close company and the other four starters well behind them.
The margin tightened going past the stands the first time, and Dawalan moved closer on the clubhouse turn. But he misjudged a fence and lost all chance. Almost simultaneously, McDermott signaled to Scorpiancer that it was time to go.
As quickly as that, the Calvin Houghland Iroquois was all but over. Scorpiancer opened daylight, and Hinterland was unable to reduce the margin around the turn. McDermott had Scorpiancer jump the last three fences carefully, and they galloped home to a surprisingly easy victory.
The Calvin Houghland Iroquois kicks off the $500,000 TVV Capital Iroquois-Cheltenham Challenge, offered to the horse who wins the Calvin Houghland Iroquois and the Cheltenham Festival’s Stayers’ Hurdle in the same 12-month period.
Bruton Street-US partner Michael Hankin, chief executive of Brown Advisory, was instrumental in getting the Iroquois-Cheltenham Challenge off the ground last year, and he said the decision on taking up the challenge would be made later. “Let’s take it a day at a time,” he said.
Scorpiancer provided a third win on the day to Fisher, jump racing’s champion trainer for the last five years, and a second win for Sean McDermott.
NO SURPRISE IN SOULFUL MARCELLUS FROST
Wendy Hendriks’ Surprising Soul, who is proving to be no surprise at all, moved into a substantial lead in the year’s first-year novice standings with a highly professional victory in the $100,000 Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle, the Iroquois Steeplechase’s second-richest race on Saturday.
Reserved off the pace set by Show Court, Surprising Soul went to the lead on the final turn at Percy Warner Park, opened a daylight lead at the second to last fence, and easily held off My Afleet for a 2 1/4-length victory.
DASH Stable’s Ice It finished third, five lengths farther back, and Tennessee horsewoman Gil Johnston’s Miguel Grau was fourth, while Show Court tired to finish fifth.
Ridden by Geraghty, Surprising Soul ran the Marcellus Frost’s 2 1/4 miles in 4:15.40 on turf rated as good on a picture-perfect day in Nashville.
“The race set up perfectly,” said Eve Ledyard, deputizing for trainer Ricky Hendriks, who was attending the graduation of his daughter from the College of Charleston. As Ledyard and Geraghty had expected, Mark Buyck Jr.’s Carolina Cup winner Show Court went to the lead immediately, with Ice It close up in the early going.
Always in touch with the pace, Surprising Soul moved into a threatening position on the final run down the backstretch and took the lead as Show Court began to tire entering the far turn. He led by four lengths two fences out and by three at the last.
My Afleet, bred and owned by Jeffrey Amling and Merriefield Farm, made a solid move under Kieran Norris but never was a threat to Surprising Soul. “It all came together,” Geraghty said.
My Afleet had been the leading first-year novice with $45,000 in earnings from his two-for-two season, including a romping victory seven days earlier at the Virginia Gold Cup.
Surprising Soul, winner of a maiden hurdle at the Aiken Spring Steeplechase and an allowance hurdle victory on April 15 at Tryon Block House in western North Carolina, added $60,000 to his earnings and now has $96,000 in 2017 purses. My Afleet has $63,000 from his starts this season.
SARAH JOYCE TAKES HENLEY
The Fields Stable’s Sarah Joyce also retained her perfect 2017 record with a strong stretch move that carried her to a 3 1/4-length victory in the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley Stakes for fillies and mares.
Hudson River Farms’ Ciboure, a newcomer to the United States and jump racing, finished a sold second in her debut, three-quarters of a length clear of Irv Naylor’s One Lucky Lady, last year’s Henley winner. Johnston’s Amnicalola finished fourth.
One Lucky Lady set the first fractions and then ceded the lead to Admiring Glance, owned and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, who also trains Ciboure.
Approaching the stretch, Admiring Glance weakened, and One Lucky Lady briefly resumed the lead. Gerard Galligan moved Ciboure to the front at the final fence, but Jack Doyle had Sarah Joyce in high gear on the inside and drew clear in the run to the wire.
Trained by Elizabeth Voss, Sarah Joyce ran the Henley’s 2 1/4 miles in 4:19.60.
CORNHUSKER SCORES IN MASON HOUGHLAND MEMORIAL
Armata Stables’ Cornhusker made a sharp move to the lead on the final circuit of the Iroquois Steeplechase’s timber course, opened a sizable lead on his opponents, and cruised to a convincing 2 1/2-length victory in the $50,000 Mason Houghland Memorial.
The three-mile timber race is a familiar target for Cornhusker, winner of Iroquois Steeplechase’s timber feature in 2014 and 2015. He began the 2017 season with a win in the Middleburg Hunt Cup on April 22 and tuned up with a second in the Winterthur Bowl six days before the Iroquois race.
Mark Beecher, in the midst of launching his training career, saddled My Afleet and then rode Cornhusker for trainer Alicia Murphy. He capitalized on a jumping error by front-running Henry San and hurtled from fourth position to the lead within a few strides with less than a mile to run.
From that point, the only question was whether Syros—an allowance timber winner at the Carolina Cup on April 1—could close the gap. Johnston’s Dynaformer gelding ran on gamely but only made a small dent in Cornhusker’s lead.
Henry San, winner of the timber feature at the Queen’s Cup on April 29, finished third.
Cornhusker ran the Mason Houghland Memorial’s three miles in 6:21.20.