2011 Eclipse Winner Black Jack Blues, Imported Last Fall, Remains Undefeated
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2011 Eclipse Winner Black Jack Blues,
Imported Last Fall, Remains Undefeated
August 2012 - Terry Conway

Irv NaylorIrv Naylor

Catch me if you can.

Black Jack Blues kept alive his American undefeated streak with an authoritative 6 1/4-length romp in the Carolina Cup in Camden, S.C. The Irish-bred horse surged to an early lead and never looked back in the 80th running of the Cup, capturing the $50,000 purse and trademark trophy in late March.

Now age nine, Black Jack Blues was given an extended break through mid-summer. Next up: he will tackle a formidable field of rivals in the $150,000 York Turf Writers Handicap at Saratoga on August 23.

The 2011 Eclipse Award winner took control early in the race then Country Cousin launched a serious challenge entering the final turn when he moved up to second position a couple of lengths back. But his run at the leader was short-lived. Black Jack Blues jumped the final fence with great care before exploding in the final stretch to finish far ahead of the pack.

His time of 4:06 and 4/5 on the 2.25-mile track was the quickest since 2008. A son of Definitive Article, it was the coal black gelding’s first competition on Camden’s Springdale Course, having missed last fall’s Colonial Cup due to a minor respiratory infection.

“He’s a gutsy horse with a lot of heart, and he gives everything I ask,” added jockey Ross Geraghty. “That is as quick as he’s raced in this country, and he wore down a lot of the rest of the runners out there. He’s the big horse in this country, and I’m privileged to ride him.”

“He couldn’t have gone any better in the Carolina Cup,” said trainer Joseph W. Delozier. “Ross was able to give him a breather, and when that other horse came to him he responded. He loves competition.”

Imported in 2011
Black Jack Blues is now three-for-three with a front-running style on American turf.  Bred in Ireland by B.J. Griffiths and trained in Britain, he began the 2011 season in Great Britain and Ireland, winning three races, then was imported by Irv Naylor, the prominent York, PA steeplechase owner.

He had barely arrived in the states when he ran in the $35,000 Dot Smithwick Memorial Stakes at Middleburg, Va. last Oct. 1. Fresh off the plane, Black Jack Blues led every step of the restricted stakes to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Three weeks later he faced the stiffest test of his career taking on 13 others in the 2 5/8-mile $250,000 Grand National at the 91st annual Far Hills Races in New Jersey. Over a rain softened turf Black Jack Blues was an easy seven-length winner over Organisateur, another Irish-bred owned by Naylor.

Those two victories earned the gelding $171,000, and as the earnings leader he was honored with the 2011 Lonesome Glory Champions Award.

Monster Year
A sportsman, businessman and philanthropist, Naylor had a monster year in 2011. He was the leading National Steeplechase Association (NSA) owner with record purse earnings of $719,725, surpassing the former record by more than $100,000. He owned all three Eclipse finalists.

“J. W. did a remarkably good job with a stable of good horses,” Naylor noted. “Through his leadership he developed and maintained that quality then he took them to the next level. We finished last season with all our good horses intact. It was marvelously rewarding, a rare privilege.”

With his Carolina Cup victory, Black Jack Blues answered the remaining question of whether he could handle firm ground against top company. Both his previous victories were over yielding turf.

“He was very impressive in his last two starts, both under very different conditions,” said Don Clippinger, communications director of the National Steeplechase Association and former editor of the Thoroughbred Times.

“Black Jack Blues is well served by his high cruising speed that makes him comfortable on the lead. He has enough natural speed to set the pace and he jumps beautifully and he has enough left after he jumps the last fence to pull away.”

Naylor purchased Black Jack Blues on the recommendation of Unionville, Pa.-based bloodstock agent Nick Carter and his associate in England. Black Jack Blues had won three novice races earlier in 2011 for Wales-based trainer Rebecca Curtis and owner Peter Neary, at Worcester in England and Ffos Las in Wales.

“Nick was very helpful identifying good horses over there (England, Ireland, and Wales),” Naylor related. “Where else are you going to find made horses? Not here in the States. It may be a horse that finishes second or third in race over there. The idea is he will improve when he comes here. When I’m considering a purchase I’m thinking where he’ll race and what is the turf like? Is it healthy and thick enough, always looking at safety?  My plan needs them to pay for themselves over two or three seasons, three being the maximum.”

Three Eclipse Finalists
Black Jack Blues easily outpolled Naylor’s Tax Ruling, the year’s only two-time Grade 1 winner, by 137 to 80 among the 2011 Eclipse voters. The horse was Naylor’s first purchase after he moved into hurdle racing after years of dominating the timber circuit. Tax Ruling scored a repeat score in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois and a gutsy 1  1/4-length victory in the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup in Camden, S.C. in the season finale.  His 2011 earnings totaled $153,500, second-highest on the NSA circuit.

Naylor also had the third Eclipse finalist, Decoy Daddy, who won the $50,000 Temple Gwathmey and took the $75,000 Marcellus Frost (Gr. 2) three weeks later. He also won the $40,000 Noel Laing for the second straight year and was unplaced finish in the Colonial Cup. His 2011 earnings totaled $124,100, third on the year-end list.

Naylor is only the second owner to be represented by all three Eclipse finalists. He duplicated the feat of Augustin Stables, which had the three finalists in 2001, led by Eclipse winner Pompeyo.

Naylor credits his recent success to training techniques at his Still Water Farm near Glyndon, Md.—swimming in a pond Naylor put in and a woodchip training track.

“A horse will go into the pond and swim three or four times around and under a boardwalk we have out there,” Naylor explained. “The horse will come out huffing and puffing. It’s worked very well for them when they run on very firm courses.

“We had huge tree come down in a storm and J. W. suggested we chip it up for a training track. It has a good firm base where you’re not going to bow (a tendon) in a horse. We gallop the horses slowly around. We don’t breeze them on it.”

A former amateur steeplechase jockey, Naylor, then 63, was seriously injured in a fall while riding Emerald Action in the Grand National on April 17, 1999. He broke his neck and his life changed forever. Fracturing his C5/C6 vertebrae, Naylor was instantly paralyzed with no use of his arms and legs. After extensive and tortuous rehabilitation workouts Naylor regained fifty percent use and strength in his arms, but the sight line these days for his steeplechase racers is from a wheelchair.

Naylor has persevered. In addition, he has championed a cure for spinal injuries and has given a reported $3 million to help fund research. While his horses will compete in the 2012 fall NSA campaign, Naylor will take part in groundbreaking stem cell research treatments and is slated to undergo stem-cell surgery in Spain in early October.  He has paid a lab the cost to develop a new cell known as iTS. It has been used in lab rats that had their spinal cords purposely damaged to replicate Naylor’s injured spinal cord.

“These rodents have been cured by iTS so they can walk and run using their four legs,” Naylor explained. “We have high hopes for it. It will take many, many years for the FDA to approve it here so the plan is to travel to Spain where the treatment can be done this fall.”

“Irv is on a noble mission,” added the NSA’s Clippinger. “He knows the research and the treatment will help younger people who have the same injuries.  He wants it to benefit as many people as possible.”

Royal Ascot Triumph
Prominent Chester County owner and breeder George Strawbridge, Jr. celebrated his first Royal Ascot winner in June with homebred colt Gatewood. His familiar silks of white and a green hoop have been commonly seen in European winner’s circles over the past three decades.

Gatewood captured the Wolferton Handicap on June 21 during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Asked for his effort at the top of the stretch, Gatewood stayed on strongly down the outside under a drive and snatched the lead 50 yards before the wire, winning by a neck.

Strawbridge’s longtime British trainer John Gosden teamed up with Buick to win three races that day.

“Gatewood has done everything right,” related Gosden, who has won 32 Royal Ascot races. “He likes to come with one big run down the outside and William had him in the right place to pull out when he wanted to go. For now we savor the moment of a Royal Ascot winner and leave the future to the future. To win a race for George is fantastic - he is one of the last great American owners to have horses here.”

Strawbridge’s colt Moonlight Cloud nearly pulled the biggest upset at Royal Ascot. Racing in the long awaited Diamond Jubilee, Moonlight Cloud roared up the inside with a withering late challenge that threatened to end Australia’s Black Caviar's unbeaten record of 21-for-21. Few could be certain of the result as Black Caviar and Moonlight Cloud flashed past the post together. Black Caviar prevailed by a desperate nose.

Strawbridge’s Aiken finished runner-up in Hardwicke S. at Royal Ascot on June 23. A month earlier the 4-year-old colt bred in the U.K. had won the 1 1/2-mile Group 2 Grand Prix de Chantilly in France. The bay colt has been a model of consistency having scored victories in Epsom's Great Metropolitan Handicap on April 25 and at Ascot on May 12, winning the Buckhound Stakes by ten lengths. The Gosden trainee scored three victories during his three-year old campaign. Aiken is by the former Strawbridge top-flight runner Selkirk and is out of the Sadler's Wells mare Las Flores (IRE).

Contact horseracing writer Terry Conway at tconway@terryconway.net