Harold A. “Sonny” Via Jr.’s Good Night Shirt repeated as champion steeplechaser, taking his second consecutive Eclipse Award in the same runaway fashion he used to win five grade I stakes during the 2008 season.
Trained in Maryland by Jack Fisher and ridden by Willie Dowling, the son o was unbeaten during the year and raced from April through November while winning at distances from two to three miles. The long-striding chestnut set a record of $485,520 for single-season earnings and led all other Maryland-bred Thoroughbreds (flat and jump) in 2008 earnings. The victories came in the Georgia Cup, the Iroquois, the Lonesome Glory, the Grand National, and the Colonial Cup.
“What can you say?” said Via in accepting the horse’s National Steeplechase Association championship in Baltimore Jan. 16. “He did it. We just came along for the ride. We’re very lucky to be associated with a horse like him.”
Bred by Tom and Chris Bowman, Good Night Shirt grew too fast to be a sales weanling or yearling and didn’t race at 2. The Bowmans sold him privately as an unraced 3-year-old and the gelding went on to win twice on the flat in 2004 before being sold as a steeplechase prospect. His jump career rocketed from two wins in 2005, a grade III stakes score and a grade II placing in 2006, to Eclipse Awards in 2007 and 2008. He now boasts $934,493 in career steeplechase earnings, third only to three-time Eclipse winner McDynamo on the National Steeplechase Association list.
The 2009 NSA season starts in March, and Good Night Shirt, now 8, will aim to become the first horse to win three consecutive runnings of the Iroquois May 9 in Nashville, Tenn.