Three Eclipse Award winners in the steeplechase division will square off in the $150,000 Iroquois Steeplechase (NSA-I) on Saturday, May 9 at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tenn.
The past three Steeplechase champions, Demonstrative (2014), Divine Fortune (2013), and Pierrot Lunaire (2012) will face two challengers in the 3-mile race over 18 national hurdles with each carrying 158 pounds. The contest is rated grade I by the National Steeplechase Association.
Demonstrative, racing in the colors of Jacqueline Ohrstrom of The Plains, Va., won the 2014 Eclipse after winning top races at Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park, and Far Hills. Trainer Richard Valentine named Robbie Walsh to ride.
After the 8-year-old gelding's first-place finish in a flat race at Middleburg, Va., last month, Valentine said he is expecting a better showing than Demonstrative's sixth-place finish at last year's Iroquois.
''He's in good form and ready to run,'' Valentine said. ''This is a grade I at three miles for the first race of the season. There's always a worry.''
Divine Fortune, the 2013 Eclipse winner for owner Bill Pape of Unionville, Pa., won the Iroquois last year. He closed out the year with a win in the $100,000, Colonial Cup in November and finished second to Demonstrative in Eclipse balloting.
Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard sent the 12-year-old gelding to a third-place finish in a training race at Charlotte, N.C., three weeks ago. Sheppard used the Charlotte-to-Nashville route to win the race last year.
''It's only a five-horse field,'' Sheppard said. ''But, these are the five best horses in training right now.''
Darren Nagle returns to the saddle in the Iroquois riding Divine Fortune after missing last year with a broken leg.
Pierrot Lunaire won the 2009 Iroquois in the colors of his late owner Calvin Houghland of Nashville. Houghland's widow, Mary Ann, and her trainer, F. Bruce Miller, have named Kieran Norris to pilot the 11-year-old gelding.
National Steeplechase Association's leading trainer Jack Fisher sends out Mr. Hot Stuff for owner Gillian Johnston of Ooltewah, Tenn. The 8-year-old gelding, who was third in the 2009 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and 15th in the Kentucky Derby, will be ridden by Paddy Young.
Sheppard and the Around the Bend Stable will round out the field with Barnstorming, a constant in-the-money finisher in hurdle stakes with Willie McCarthy aboard.
The Iroquois will be the seventh and final race on the card that includes four other hurdle races, a race on the flat, and a $75,000, three-mile race over post and rail fences. Purses for the card total $435,000. The Iroquois Steeplechase benefits the Monroe Carrell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University.