Zanjabeel, a two-time Grade 1 winner owned by Rosbrian Farm and Meadow Run Farm, was honored Thursday evening with the 2018 Eclipse Award as outstanding steeplechase horse. The presentation was made at the annual Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park.
Trained by Ricky Hendriks, the then five-year-old gelding won the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) on May 12 and the $175,000 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) on Sept. 20. He also finished second in the $150,000 Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) on March 31 and the $75,000 Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 2) on April 21.
The North American championship award was determined by votes of National Thoroughbred Racing Association racing secretaries, Daily Racing Form editorial employees, and members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. Other finalists were Rosbrian’s Optimus Prime, also trained by Hendriks and winner of Saratoga Race Course’s $175,000 New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1), and $450,000 Grand National (Gr. 1) victor Jury Duty, who was the year’s leading earner.
Zanjabeel, whose name means “ginger” in Arabic, was an overwhelming choice of the Eclipse voters. He received 176 votes to 22 for Optimus Prime and 12 for Jury Duty. Also receiving votes were novice champion Iranistan (4) and Balance the Budget (1).
Hendriks, a two-time champion steeplechase jockey (1986 and 1987), became the first horseman to be associated win Eclipse Award winners as both rider and trainer. He was the regular jockey of three-time Eclipse winner Zaccio, who took down the sport’s top prize between 1980 and 1982. Trained by Racing Hall of Fame member W. Burling Cocks, Zaccio was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.
Bred in England by Kirsten Rausing, the prominent owner of Lanwades Stud in Newmarket, Zanjabeel was by Aussie Rules, a winner of Grade 1 and Group 1 races on turf. A son of Danehill, regarded as Danzig’s finest son at stud, Aussie Rules stood at Lanwades until his death in 2013. Zanjabeel was out of Rausing’s unraced Machiavellian mare Grain Only.
Unraced at two, he had a maiden flat win at three for trainer Gordon Elliott and two flat wins at four in busy racing seasons. He was converted to hurdles in the summer of 2017 and showed some promise while never winning. His best in Ireland for The Confidence Partnership was a second by a nose in his first start over fences.
Elliott, confident that Zanjabeel would handle American conditions well, packed him off to New Jersey for the 2017 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills. He would have faced America’s best jumps newcomer in that novice stakes, but division leader Moscato sustained an injury after his victory in Belmont Park’s William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes a month before the Foxbrook and was not entered.
Elliott’s faith in Zanjabeel was borne out in the Foxbrook, which attracted a quality field of 11. With the young Irish riding sensation Jack Kennedy in the saddle, Zanjabeel went to the lead as he wished after the final fence and won by 4 3/4 lengths in an impressive performance.
Shortly after that victory, Mandy and George Mahoney’s Rosbrian Farm acquired Zanjabeel with their friends Wendy and Ben Griswold, owners of Meadow Run Farm. Turned over to Hendriks, Zanjabeel came back in two weeks to win the Steeplechase at Callaway’s Aflac Supreme Hurdle, also for novices, by 2 3/4 lengths under Ross Geragthy. He completed the season with $120,000 in 2017 earnings, second only to Bruton Street-US’s novice champion Moscato, who earned $156,000 and interestingly also was bred by Rausing.
Hendriks had Zanjabeel ready for the start of the 2018 season and sent him against seasoned runners in the Carolina Cup’s Colonial Cup. At the Springdale Race Course, they ran into the speedy Balance the Budget, who laid down all the pace and defeated Zanjabeel by 6 1/4 lengths.
Zanjabeel returned in three weeks and again finished second, beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Lyonell, in Middleburg Spring’s Temple Gwathmey. Those two races set him up for a trip to Nashville for the three-mile Calvin Houghland Iroquois. Still, the distance was a half-mile longer than he had ever run. “To push Zanjabeel out to three miles was risky. It was a team decision that paid off,” Geraghty said.
Hendriks’ Morningstar Farm team had Zanjabeel ready to go the distance. Geraghty gradually moved him into close contention and asked him to run after the last. Zanjabeel drew away to a five-length victory over Modem.
After the strenuous effort in a steamy Nashville, Hendriks gave Zanjabeel the summer off and targeted him for Belmont’s Lonesome Glory at 2 1/2 miles. Geraghty was aboard Rosbrian’s Optimus Prime, the New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1) winner also trained by Hendriks, and Kennedy flew in for the New York engagement.
Sent off as the 17-to-10 favorite, Zanjabeel was always in touch with the pace, went to the front on the final turn and won by 1 3/4 lengths over Hinterland, with Optimus Prime finishing third.
Hendriks nominated Zanjabeel to the Grand National, but a minor injury kept him out of the entries. With his most significant competition on the sidelines, Elliott shipped in Jury Duty for a victory in the Grand National.
Zanjabeel completed his championship season with two wins and two seconds from four starts and $265,500 in 2018 earnings.