Trainer Jonathan Sheppard reached the 3,000 win milestone Sept. 17 when he saddled Fugitive Angel to a neck victory in the seventh race at Delaware Park.
Sheppard's accomplishment came with a 5-year-old Pennsylvania-bred mare racing in a $75,000 allowance optional claiming event at 7 1/2 furlongs over Delaware's turf course. Owned and bred by George Strawbridge, Fugitive Angel was ridden for the first time by Alex Cintron.
"It's nice to win with a horse owned by Mr. Strawbridge, because he's been my biggest and longest-lasting owner since I started," said Sheppard. "I train for at least 25 different owners, so it was nice (the 3,000th winner) turned out to be one of his."
Unhurried early in the race, Fugitive Angel closed swiftly with a four-wide move and got up in the final strides for victory. Sheppard has also sent out Fugitive Angel to multiple stakes wins over the years, including the 2010 Pin Oak Valley View Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland.
"I was actually surprised we got (to 3,000) as soon as we did," said Sheppard, 71. "I'm the 28th (trainer) to achieve (the milestone), so there's plenty of people that have done that much and a lot more, but considering I don't have a massive stable, it means a lot to me. I have pride in my consistency. I've been (winning) at a steady rate for quite a long time."
Sheppard said the 3,000th victory was especially sweet as his wife, Cathy, who is based in Florida, unexpectedly showed up at Delaware to witness the milestone victory.
"I was in the paddock saddling a horse, and I looked up and there was a little blonde-haired lady walking toward me and sure enough it was my wife with no warning—she surprised me," said Sheppard. "I asked her, 'How long are you going to stay?' She said, 'I'm staying as long as it takes you to get this next win.' So it was nice she was here to share it with me.' "
A native of Ashwell, England, Sheppard is a prominent steeplechase trainer as well as a flat conditioner.
He has notched two Breeders' Cup victories, with Forever Together in the 2008 Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) and Informed Decision in the 2009 Filly & Mare Sprint. In the years they won Breeders' Cup races, Forever Together was voted an Eclipse Award as champion grass mare, while Informed Decision was named champion sprinter. Both mares were also owned by Strawbridge.
Sheppard's other grade I winners in steeplechase or flat races are Arcadius, Bisbalense, Bon Fleur, Cherokeeinthehills, Dr. Bloomer, Invest West, Irish Approach, It's a Giggle, Just as Well, Mixed Up, Ninepins, Romantic, Sermon of Love, Sovereign Duty, and With Anticipation.
In 2010, Sheppard picked up his 1,000th career steeplechase victory in grand fashion, capturing the grade I Helen Haskell Sampson with the aforementioned Arcadius at Monmouth Park.
Elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1990, Sheppard is one of only two trainers to handle flat and steeplechase champions since the advent of the Eclipse Awards in 1971.
Sheppard's first winner as a trainer was Haffaday at the Rosetree Hunt Meeting in 1966. He spends much of his time on the road looking after his 100 horses stabled at Delaware Park and Ashwell Stables, his training center in Unionville, Pa.