NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Pennsylvania-based Divine Fortune, the 2013 steeplechaser of the year, starts defense of his title against eight rivals at the 73rd annual Iroquois Steeplechase and looking for a bit of revenge.
The 11-year-old gelding will be ridden by Willie McCarthy for Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard and owner William L. Pape, both of Unionville, Pa., in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle Stakes, the featured race at Percy Warner Park on Saturday.
Divine Fortune lost last year's Iroquois by Demonstrative, campaigned by Mrs. George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. of The Plains, Va., and trainer Richard Valentine. The horses battled head and head for the last quarter mile last year before jockey Robbie Walsh got Demonstrative to the wire a head in front of Divine Fortune.
After his second-place finish at Iroquois, the richest race on the National Steeplechase Association's spring calendar, Divine Fortune went on to win the $250,000 American Grand National at Far Hills, N.J., the biggest money race over jumps in North America. That win in the October classic earned Divine Fortune the Eclipse Award as 'chaser of the year.
Both horses tuned up for their 2014 debuts over hurdles in the Iroquois with a flat race last month at Charlotte, N.C. in which Divine Fortune was third and his chief rival was fourth.
Sheppard said earlier this week the race at Charlotte was not his first choice for Divine Fortune to prepare for the hurdle season.
"The only hurdle race I could find for him was the Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg, Virginia," the trainer said. "That race is a handicap and the weight he would have been forced to carry would have been out of the question."
Sheppard is not conceding the race to Divine Fortune, Demonstrative or any other horse in the race. He also has entered his own Italian Wedding, winner of Saratoga's $150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup last August. Bernie Dalton will again be aboard Italian Wedding.
Mrs. Calvin Houghland of nearby Brentwood, widow of the horsemen for whom the race is named, will send out the 2012 Eclipse Award winner Pierrot Lunaire and Malotof, the third place finisher in last year's Iroquois. Trainer Blythe Miller-Davies has named amateur rider Jody Petty on Pierrot Lunaire and has not yet named a jockey for Molotof.
The field will be completed by Fog Island (Kevin Norris), For Non Stop (Ross Geraghty), Gustavian (Paddy Young) and Virsito (Jeff Murphy).
The steeplechase is run for the benefit of the Monroe Carell, Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University and caps a seven-race slate.