(from the National Steeplechase Association)
Recent English import Pierrot Lunaire denied champion Good Night Shirt his third consecutive Iroquois Steeplechase (NSA-I) victory May 9 when he came from off the pace to win the $150,000 event at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tenn.
Owned by former Iroquois chairman Calvin Houghland, Pierrot Lunaire, ridden by Chip Miller, rated deep in the compact field of six while Good Night Shirt handled the pace chores for the better part of the three-mile distance. The winner, a 5-year-old son of War Chant, reached contention at the second-last fence, caught Good Night Shirt at the last and won by three lengths in 6:27 2/5 over a soft turf course.
Good Night Shirt, bidding to become the first horse to win three consecutive runnings of the Iroquois, settled for second with Chivite third. Bruce Miller trained the winner, who arrived at Miller’s Pennsylvania farm from England on May 5.
“He’s had a busy schedule, that’s for sure,” said the trainer, who won his fourth Iroquois. “Mr. Houghland wanted a horse to run in the Iroquois and I had given up, but then we got this one. I don’t know that much about him, but he’s got a great temperament to do all this and he ate like no other horse through it all. What a great feeling.”
Trained in England by Paul Nicholls until the sale, Pierrot Lunaire had won two races over hurdles in England and raced at the Cheltenham Festival in March. He came into the Iroquois as the unknown but left with the $90,000 winner’s share and a stake in the 2009 championship race as the year’s first grade I winner.
Houghland, 92, a longtime steeplechase owner, rode in the first Iroquois in 1941 and won the third renewal as a jockey. The 2009 victory was his fifth as an owner.
Veteran jockey Chip Miller, Bruce’s son, scored his first Iroquois win by engineering a perfect trip that conserved his horse’s energy and produced a powerful charge over the final three fences.
“Whenever you ride a race with one clear favorite, the whole idea is to beat him,” said Chip Miller, 39. “I wanted to be conservative. You can’t come from last and win this race. I wanted to stay on good ground, but I gave up so much ground to find it. I know that made a difference. But he was game too. He came with a run.”
Good Night Shirt, the two-time Eclipse Award champion who carried a seven-race winning streak into the day, failed in his attempt at history, but joined a big crowd. Twelve horses have won consecutive runnings of the Iroquois. None have won three in a row.
Chip Miller won the 209th race of his career, seventh on the all-time list and tops among active jump jockeys.
The winner was bred in Kentucky by Skymarc Farm, but raced exclusively in England. He lost six starts on the flat but won two of eight starts over hurdles for Nicholls, England’s champion steeplechase trainer, including a victory over hurdles at Aintree last spring.
Other stakes winners on a full day of racing were Planets Aligned ($50,000 Marcellus Frost), Dynaskill ($50,000 Margaret Henley) and Patriot’s Path ($75,000 Mason Houghland).