January 16th, 2012
When is a horse that wins one Grade I race better than a horse that has won two Grade I races? Apparently, when the horse that won only one Grade I race wins the richest race of the season, or so say the majority of Eclipse Award voters who selected Black Jack Blues (Ire) over Tax Ruling as the 2011 steeplechase Champion. While Black Jack Blues did defeat Tax Ruling the one time they met in the Grand National, that victory came in the over a deep and tiring Far Hills Race Course that produced several longshot winners on October 22nd. While Tax Ruling, like many horses that day, clearly failed to handle the Far Hills course, he defeated 2010 Champion Slip Away in the Grade I Iroquois in May and closed the season with a gutsy victory in the Grade I Colonial Cup. Those triumphs were enough to garner this writer’s top Eclipse vote, as well as the top votes cast by Joe and Sean Clancy. While the majority of the Eclipse voters didn’t see it that way, since neither Tax Ruling nor Black Jack Blues know or care which one of them won the Eclipse Award, what does it matter? Eclipse awards are for owners, and both horses are owned by Irv Naylor.
Reprinted below is the NSA press release announcing the winner:
Irvin S. Naylor’s Black Jack Blues (Ire) was voted the 2011 Eclipse Award as North America’s champion steeplechase horse. The champion was announced Monday, Jan.16, at the annual Eclipse Awards dinner at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, Calif.
The Definite Article gelding, trained by Joseph W. Delozier III, won his only two U.S. starts, including the year’s richest race, the $250,000 Grand National (Gr.) at the Far Hills Races in New Jersey on Oct. 21. Before that impressive seven-length victory, he had dominated the $35,000 Dorothy Fred Smithwick Stakes at the Virginia Fall Races on Oct. 1.
Those two victories earned him $171,000, and as the earnings leader he was honored with the National Steeplechase Association’s Lonesome Glory Champions Award. He missed the season finale, the $100,000 Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1), because of a mild respiratory infection.
Naylor purchased Black Jack Blues on the recommendation of bloodstock agent Nick Carter and Delozier. The gelding had won three novice races earlier in 2011, at Worcester in England and Fllos Las in Wales.
Carter “picked him out. He came to me and said, ‘This is the one,’ ” Delozier said in accepting the Eclipse Award for Naylor, who was out of the country and unable to attend the ceremony. Delozier also credited jockey Ross Geraghy, who rode Black Jack Blues in both his U.S. starts.
Delozier praised the work of Rebecca Curtis, the young Wales-based trainer who handled Black Jack Blues for owner Peter Neary. “He came to my barn in great form and made my job easy,” Delozier said.
Black Jack Blues easily outpolled Naylor’s Tax Ruling, the year’s only two-time Grade 1 winner, by 137 to 80 among the Eclipse voters. Naylor’s first purchase after he moved into hurdle racing after years of dominating the timber circuit, Tax Ruling scored a repeat score in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois on May 14 at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park and a gutty 1 1/4-length victory in the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup on Nov. 19 in Camden, S.C.
The Dynaformer gelding also finished fourth in the $50,000 Carolina Cup (Gr. 3) on April 2 on Camden’s Springdale Course, and he was pulled up in the Grand National. He had prepared for his fall campaign over fences with a victory in a training flat race at Shawan Downs in Maryland on Sept. 24. His 2011 earnings totaled $153,500, second-highest on the NSA circuit.
Naylor also had the third Eclipse finalist, Decoy Daddy, who won three stakes races, two of them graded. In the spring, he won the $50,000 Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) at the Middleburg Spring Races in Virginia on April 23 and took the $75,000 Marcellus Frost (Gr. 2) at Iroquois three weeks later. He also won the $40,000 Noel Laing for the second straight year at the Montpelier Hunt Races in Virginia on Nov. 5. He closed out the season with an unplaced finish in the Colonial Cup. His 2011 earnings totaled $124,100, third on the year-end list.
Naylor is only the second owner to be represented by all three Eclipse finalists. He duplicated the feat of Augustin Stables, which had the three finalists in 2001, led by Eclipse winner Pompeyo.
The Eclipse Award winners were determined by votes of the Eclipse Awards’ three sponsoring organizations, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and Daily Racing Form.