Displaying the brilliant turn of foot that won him last year’s Eclipse Award, Bill Pape’s Divine Fortune set all the pace in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) and danced away Saturday to a 3 1/4-length victory over Magalen O. Bryant’s Gustavian in the featured race of the 73rd annual Iroquois Steeplechase in Nashville.
Divine Fortune’s victory in his first 2014 start over fences atoned for a narrow defeat in last year’s Calvin Houghland Iroquois, in which Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Demonstrative overtook Pape’s top runner and won by a neck. Demonstrative failed to make his usual late run and finished sixth.
Irv Naylor’s promising import For Non Stop finished third, and 2009 Iroquois winner Pierrot Lunaire took the fourth spot, and Italian Wedding was fifth.
Trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard, Divine Fortune had used his front-end speed to defeat an all-star field in last fall’s $250,000 Grand National (Gr. 1) at Far Hills, N.J., a race in which Gustavian finished second.
Now 11, the Pape-Sheppard homebred ran the Calvin Houghland Iroquois’ three miles in 5:39.40 on firm turf and jumped to the top of the 2014 earnings table with the $90,000 first-place purse.
Willie McCarthy rode Divine Fortune and added to his lead in the jockey standings with his third victory on a pleasantly warm afternoon at Percy Warner Park. He previously had won the Bright Hour Stakes with Tempt Me Alex and the George Sloan and John Sloan Sr. Sport of Kings maiden hurdle with Mystery Jack.
In the race preceding the Calvin Houghland Iroquois, Armata Stables’ Cornhusker took over the lead when early leader Rugged Rascal pulled up in the $50,000 Mason Houghland Memorial Stakes and won by 5 3/4 lengths over Naylor’s Tax Ruling, who had finished second last year. Pape’s Nationbuilder finished fourth.
Trained by Alicia Murphy and ridden by Mark Beecher, Cornhusker ran the Mason Houghland’s three miles in 6:08. The British-bred seven-year-old had entered the Iroquois timber race from a 6 1/2-length victory in the Middleburg Hunt Cup on April 19.