Eclipse Award finalist Optimus Prime and a newcomer to Irv Naylor’s stable top the initial National Steeplechase Association ratings for the upcoming 2019 racing season, which kicks off March 23 with the Aiken Spring Steeplechase in South Carolina.
Third in the ratings is Scorpiancer, the 2017 Eclipse champion who did not race last year.
Owned by 2018 champion owner Rosbrian Farm, Optimus Prime arrived in the United States last May and was prepared by trainer Ricky Hendriks and his staff for a victory in Saratoga Race Course’s New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1) on Aug. 23.
Third in Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) behind stablemate and eventual Eclipse champion Zanjabeel, Optimus Prime came back with a dominant victory in the International Gold Cup’s David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2) on Oct. 27. The French-bred, now seven, was second in the Eclipse balloting behind overwhelming choice Zanjabeel, who is owned by Rosbrian and Meadow Run Farm.
Naylor’s newcomer is Bedrock, a British-bred who is now six. Formerly trained by Iain Jardine, he collected two farewell victories for his former owner, The Risk Takers Partnership, in Ireland. After an October win at Tipperary, he was victorious in a Down Royal hurdle on Nov. 2. In all, his earnings over hurdles exceed $130,000.
Optimus Prime and Bedrock were listed at 157 in the ratings prepared by the expert panel comprising Equibase chart caller Martin Chamberlin, racing official and announcer Will O’Keefe, and Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Editor Joe Clancy. Their work is overseen by NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr.
Trained by Jack Fisher, Bruton Street-US’s Scorpiancer is back in work after missing the 2018 season. He won his only 2017 starts, the Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3) in April and the Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) in May, to lock up the North American championship. He is rated at 150.
Fourth in the rankings at 142 is Robert A. Kinsley’s Modem, who finished second in last year’s Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) behind Zanjabeel before being unplaced in Saratoga’s A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1).
Deadlocked at 138 are Gillian Johnston’s Days of Heaven, who finished sixth in the Grand National behind Irish invader Jury Duty, and Naylor’s Sempre Medici, second to Optimus Prime in the Ferguson Memorial. Fisher trains Days of Heaven, and Cyril Murphy trains Sempre Medici.
Tied at 137 are Buttonwood Farm’s All the Way Jose and Apple Equipment’s Winner Massagot. A Grade 1 winner in 2017, All the Way Jose was third for a second straight year in the Grand National, and Winner Massagot won the Noel Laing Handicap at Montpelier in November. Jonathan Sheppard trains All the Way Jose, and Winner Massagot is trained by Richard Valentine.
Also back in training is Bruton Street-US’s Moscato, the 2017 novice champion who missed the 2018 season. Trained by Fisher, Moscato had four 2017 wins, including Saratoga’s Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes. He is rated at 136.
The complete list of 102 hurdle winners preparing for the 2019 racing season is located on the NSA’s website in the Feb. 13 official notices, https://www.nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Feb.-13-2019.pdf