The three most recent steeplechase Eclipse Award champions rank atop the initial ratings for the National Steeplechase Association’s upcoming 2020 season. The spring schedule kicks off on Saturday, March 21, at the Aiken Spring Steeplechase.
The rankings, which determine weight assignments in the increasingly popular ratings handicaps and are a guideline for weights in open handicaps, are determined by a three-member committee working under NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo. The committee members are Equibase chart caller Martin Chamberlin, racing journalist Joe Clancy, and race director and announcer Will O’Keefe.
Numerical ratings were assigned to 95 hurdle winners in training for the new season.
Atop the initial 2020 ratings at 154 is Bruton Street-US’s Scorpiancer, the 2017 Eclipse champion who came back last year to score his second victory in the spring’s richest race, the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1). He closed out the 2019 season with a second-place finish in the Far Hills Races’ $450,000 Grand National (Gr. 1), the richest race on the NSA’s annual schedule. He is trained by Jack Fisher.
The National Steeplechase Association kicks off its 2020 season on Saturday, March 21, and the spring schedule offers high-quality racing over hurdles and timber fences, a new race in Pennsylvania, the return of Tryon Block House, and a Fair Hill meet at Laurel Park in Maryland.
Topping the stakes schedule is the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1), the signature race of the 79th annual Iroquois Steeplechase on Saturday, May 9. Iroquois offers the highest purses of the spring season, $460,000, and the popular Nashville meet also will feature the $100,000 Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle for novices and the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley for fillies and mares.
The spring’s second-highest purses, $315,000, will be paid at the 95th annual Virginia Gold Cup in The Plains on Saturday, May 2. In addition to the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup over timber, the $75,000 David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) will be featured at Great Meadow Race Course.
Celebrating its centennial will be the Middleburg Spring Races, which will offer the first graded stakes of the year, the Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 2), on Saturday, April 18. The Temple Gwathmey purse was increased by $25,000 to $100,000 to mark the 100th anniversary.
Also marking an important anniversary, its 25th, will be the Queen’s Cup Steeplechase in suburban Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday, April 25. Its feature race will be the $100,000 Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase for novices.
John J. McGourty, a journalist and Equibase chart-caller who frequently was assigned to steeplechase meets such as the Far Hills Races, died Friday, February 7, at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, Pa. He was 71. Born and raised in West Newton, Mass., he was a 40-year resident of Falls Township, Pa. He graduated from
Michael Berryman, a well-respected and well-liked steeplechase horseman who was based in Johnson City, Tenn., died Friday, Jan. 24. He was 67. Based in the Midwest circuit of steeplechase racing, he was especially active during the 1990s and continued to train into the current decade. Among other owners, he trained horses for Manown “Buck” Kisor,
Elizabeth “Betty” Ranney Moran, the longtime Radnor Hunt Races chair who enjoyed success in Thoroughbred flat racing and breeding as well as a win in the Grand National at Aintree, passed away peacefully at home on January 23 at age 89. She was born on Aug. 7, 1930, in Bryn Mawr, Pa., to Claude J.
Hudson River Farms’ Winston C, a newcomer to American racing who easily won Saratoga Race Course’s two Grade 1 jump races, was honored Thursday evening with the Eclipse Award as North America’s champion steeplechase horse in 2019.
An Irish-bred gelding by Galileo’s son Rip Van Winkle, Winston C prevailed in the Eclipse voting over two other Grade 1 winners: Michael Buckley’s Brain Power, who invaded from England to win Far Hills’ Grand National, and Bruton Street-US’s Scorpiancer, the 2017 Eclipse Award champion who won the Calvin Houghland Iroquois for a second time.
Winston C and other Thoroughbred champions were honored at the 49th annual Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla. This year’s Eclipse Awards presentations were sponsored by Claiborne Farm stallion Runhappy.
Among the Eclipse winners was George Strawbridge Jr., the all-time leading steeplechase owner who was honored as outstanding breeder.
Accepting the Eclipse Award was Hudson River Farms owner Edward P. Swyer, who was accompanied by trainer Jonathan Sheppard’s assistant, Keri Brion, jockey Thomas Garner, and National Steeplechase Association director Eve Ledyard.