Irvin S. Naylor’s Tax Ruling, a two-time winner of the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1), will go for the hat trick at the 71st annual Iroquois Steeplechase at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park on Saturday, May 12. Iroquois’ seven races offer $400,000 in purses, the richest stop on the National Steeplechase Association’s spring schedule, and first post time will be 1 p.m.
Iroquois offers a second graded stakes race, the $75,000 Marcellus Frost (Gr. 2), and the $50,000 Mason Houghland Memorial, an important race over timber fences. Also on the rich card is the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley, a hurdle race for fillies and mare in which Mary Ann Houghland’s Sweet Shani will be going for her third straight victory.
The Calvin Houghland Memorial is filled with familiar names from steeplechase racing’s top echelon. Naylor, the sport’s record-setting champion owner in 2011, will bid for a third straight Calvin Houghland Memorial with nine-year-old Tax Ruling.
Last year, Tax Ruling was American Steeplechasing’s only two-time Grade 1 winner. After his Iroquois victory, he came back to win the $100,000 Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) in Camden, S.C., on Nov. 19. Trained by Brianne Slater, Tax Ruling will be ridden by Xavier Aizpuru, a two-time champion jockey.
J. W. Delozier, who trains Naylor’s principal stable in Maryland, will saddle Decoy Daddy, who distinguished himself last year with a victory in the Marcellus Frost, one of his three 2011 stakes victories. The Irish-bred prepared for the Calvin Houghland Iroquois with a training flat victory at the Winterthur Races in Delaware on May 6. Ross Geraghty will be in the saddle.
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard will unleash a three-pronged attack to block Tax Ruling’s bid for a record third Iroquois victory. Chief among his contenders is Bill Pape’s Divine Fortune, a two-time winner of the A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 3) at Saratoga Race Course. Divine Fortune easily won the Block House allowance hurdle in Tryon, N.C., in his Iroquois tune-up. Brian Crowley will ride.
Darren Nagle, who rode Tax Ruling to his 2010 and 2011 Calvin Houghland Iroquois victories, will be aboard Hudson River Farms’ Arcadius for Sheppard. Winner of the 2010 Helen Haskell Sampson (Gr. 1) at Monmouth Park, Arcadius finished a closing third to Tax Ruling in the Colonial Cup.
Mrs. Houghland’s Nationbuilder will be ridden by Danielle Hodsdon. The eight-year-old Came Home gelding finished third in last year’s race and was third to Divine Fortune in the A. P. Smithwick. He prepared for his first 2012 start with a fourth in a training flat race at the Queen’s Cup Steeplechase in North Carolina on April 28.
Completing the field is 2009 Iroquois winner Pierrot Lunaire, who is trained by Bruce Miller. In his most recent start, Pierrot Lunaire finished third in the Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) at the Middleburg Spring Races for a second straight year. Jacob Roberts has the mount.
$75,000 Marcellus Frost
Naylor’s Via Galilei will seek to follow the path of Decoy Daddy when he heads an accomplished field for the two-mile Marcellus Frost. A recent import from England, Irish-bred Via Galilei won the Temple Gwathmey by a half-length over Oakwood Stable’s Country Cousin, who also will line up for the Marcellus Frost. Geraghty will ride Via Galilei for Delozier, and trainer Julie Gomena named Carl Rafter to ride multiple stakes winner Country Cousin.
Sheppard will be represented by Pape’s Sermon of Love, winner of the 2010 New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1) at Saratoga, and Parker’s Project, a Hudson River Stables runner who won an optional allowance at Saratoga last summer.
Trainer Jack Fisher will send out Andre Brewster’s and Sheila Williams’ All Together, the 2010 novice champion who finished third in the Carolina Cup in Camden, S.C., on March 31. Aizpuru has the mount.
$50,000 Margaret Currey Henley
Sweet Shani reigned as the 2011 Life’s Illusion Filly and Mare champion after her Henley victory and a devastating score in the $50,000 Peapack Stakes at Far Hills, N.J. in the fall. Hodsdon, her regular jockey, will be in the irons as she seeks an unprecedented third straight victory in the 2 1/4-mile race over National Fences.
Seeking to derail her trip into the history books will be a three-pronged attack from owner Magalen O. Bryant and trainer Doug Fout. Topping their team will be 2010 Life’s Illusion champion Ptarmigan, who was fourth in last year’s Henley. She was fifth in a training flat race at the Carolina Cup. Willie McCarthy has the mount.
Ptarmigan’s half sister, Quiet Flaine, will be ridden by Jeff Murphy in the Henley. She won her maiden victory by 15 3/4 lengths over other fillies and mares at the Carolina Cup. Bernie Dalton will ride Well Fashioned, winner of last fall’s Crown Royal Stakes for fillies and mares at the Steeplechase at Callaway in Georgia.
Fisher named Willie Dowling to ride Arcadia Stable’s Opera Heroine, winner of the inaugural Mrs. Ogden Phipps Stakes at Saratoga last August.
$50,000 Mason Houghland Memorial
Michael A. Smith’s Triple Dip, upset winner of last year’s Mason Houghland Memorial, returns to attempt a second dip in the three-mile timber race against an accomplished field. Chip Miller will ride Triple Dip for trainer Jimmy Day.
Fisher will have a powerful three-horse entry for the Mason Houghland. Arcadia’s Delta Park won the New Jersey Hunt Cup at Far Hills on Oct. 22 after a third in last year’s Mason Houghland Memorial. Joey Elliott has the mount.
The trainer tapped Aizpuru to handle Brewster’s Shiny Emblem, 6 3/4-length winner of the GMC allowance timber race on April 28. Dowling will be aboard Lion’s Double, who finished third in Foxfield Spring’s Grover Vandenvender Memorial maiden timber race on April 28 in first start since October 2010.