January 2015 | Now 11, Steeplechaser Divine Fortune Is Still Going Strong
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Now 11, Steeplechaser Divine Fortune Is Still Going Strong

January 2015 - Terry Conway

Anne and Bill Pape of Chester County, PAAnne and Bill Pape of Chester County, PA bred Divine Fortune along with trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Photo credit: Tod Marks.

For Divine Fortune, it's been a long and winding road.

The 11-year chestnut gelding brought down the curtain on the 2014 steeplechase season with a scintillating performance in the $100,000 Grade-1 Colonial Cup on November 15. Flashing the brilliance that carried him to the 2013 Eclipse Champion award, the Pennsylvania-bred broke sharply and set the pace all the way around the 2 3/4-mile Springdale Race Course. Jumping fluidly and boldly, Divine Fortune drew away to win by a dominating nine-length victory run on a chilly but sunny afternoon in Camden, S.C.

“He likes to get to the front and have everybody follow him," said jockey Darren Nagle. "He wants to be the boss horse.”

A son of Royal Anthem, Divine Fortune was bred by Chester County's William Pape and Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Run on a sprawling course, the Colonial Cup features 17 fences – each jumped once. The lengthy backstretch picks off six fences in a line. It played to Divine Fortune’s strengths.

“I just rode him, to best suit him and didn’t worry about everybody else,” said Nagle. “I said I would go from the start, go quick over the first couple, let him ease up the straight and catch his breath. There are plenty of fences down the backside and jumping is the name of the game for him. I let him roll down there and gunned him at everything. If there’s something good enough to go with him over a line of six at that speed, then fair play to them.”

When he came to the two-fence, quarter mile stretch Divine Fortune opened it up. The rangy chestnut flashed under the finish line the winner by nine lengths over Sheppard's other runner, Barnstorming, who was a nose to the good of Demonstrative, who saw his three Grade-1 winning streak come to a halt.

"We thought Top Striker (the fourth place finisher) might want to take us on," Sheppard said. "If he did we were content to let him go by and sit second or third. That was our contingency plan. Then he kind of stole the start. That kind of set up the race up from the start."

"He's been such a consistent horse and he has a temperament where nothing rattles him," added owner Pape. "He's got such an impressive, beautiful stride.  To be racing this well at age 11 really is something special."

It was Divine Fortune's 11th victory in 40 lifetime jump starts and increased his career steeplechase earnings to $801,390. He is just one of six American steeplechasers to ever earn more than $800,000. His first victory was on the flat, back in 2007 at Colonial Downs Racetrack in New Kent, Va. When Divine Fortune was switched to the jumping game that year, he responded with three victories. However, he suffered a bad tendon injury and Sheppard shut him down for two seasons.

Sixth Colonial Cup Win
Divine Fortune's triumph marked Pape's sixth victory in the prestigious Colonial Cup, but the first since 1986. He won the race with Martie's Anger in 1968 and four consecutive years from 1983 through 1986 with the legendary Flatterer.

Pape, 81, has been a steeplechase client of Sheppard for nearly five decades. He maintains a 90-acre property near Unionville named My Way Farm that is home to a menagerie of animals, including white swans, ducks, snow geese, cattle, dogs and horses. Many of Pape's former jumpers return to the farm after their racing careers are finished. In one paddock, 2009 Eclipse winner Mixed Up roams the rolling terrain with one-eye retiree Dirge.

Watching the Colonial Cup Pape marvels at how Divine Fortune and Nagle were in total sync.

"We all figured out that he definitely likes it on the front end," Pape said. "Darren rode a near perfect race. The way he was jumping on the backside, you couldn't have asked for anything better. Extending his stride on the backside, standing at the wings (of the fences) and taking off and flying over the fence. It was just amazing."

Divine Fortune kicked off the 2014 season with a victory in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Grade-1) in May. Next time out he was pulled up in A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Grade- 1) at Saratoga Race Course, and then fell at the last fence of the $150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup (Grade-1), won by Demonstrative.

In five meetings this year, three went to Demonstrative, the other two to Divine Fortune. Those head-to-head matches and a big earnings advantage over Divine Fortune ($362,500 versus $195,000) likely will give Demonstrative the Eclipse Award as champion steeplechaser, but on the third Saturday of November, steeplechasing fans were in a frenzy cheering the "old guy" on to victory.

Divine Fortune will spend the winter and spring at Sheppard's farm, starting light exercise in late January. So will we see Divine Fortune in 2015?

"It's up to the horse," Pape replied. "But, I think he can do it. It will be a limited schedule and as for the distance of the races, the more the better. You can run at 12 now, if you have the right credentials.”

The National Steeplechase Association altered its racing rules earlier this year to allow top-flight older horses with the right credentials to continue their careers racing over jumps. Divine Fortune certainly checked off that box with his emphatic win in the Colonial Cup.

Remembering Flatterer
He was recognized as one of the greatest steeplechasers to ever look through a bridle. Flatterer, the four-time champion steeplechase horse, was the oldest living Eclipse Award winner and  Thoroughbred Hall of Famer, when he died last April 24 at age 35 at Pape's My Way Farm.

A son of Mo Bay—Horizontal, by Nade, Flatterer was bred by Sheppard and Pape. Flatterer's career began at age three as a flat runner in a number of claiming races. However, once he took to jumping, Flatterer sprouted wings. He quickly became a dominant force with both a powerful turn of foot and fierce determination and in 1983, his first year jumping, the colt was named Eclipse Award champion.

"Appearance wise he was just an everyday horse," Pape noted. "Jonathan did a remarkable job with some of his physical problems he worked around.

"Nothing could touch him, he was the greatest American steeplechase horse. He was carrying 170 pounds and still setting records. He was an excellent jumper and his acceleration was terrific. If he was head-to-head with another horse at the final jump, the race was over. He had the will to win."

Year after year, the dark gelding dominated steeplechase racing. Among the highlights of his legendary career were 17 victories from 1983 through 1986, including an unmatched four consecutive Colonial Cup wins.  He was also the first horse to win steeplechasing's Triple Crown: the American Grand National, Temple Gwathney and Colonial Cup.

Among his other top stakes victories were the Turf Writers Cup, another Temple Gwathney, the Brook Steeplechase and the National Hunt Cup.  He won at three miles and set a new course record in his fourth Colonial Cup victory. Flatterer's talent was so in demand he was shipped to Europe twice – to France and England where in marquee events, he ran very credible seconds.

Flatterer compiled a career record of 24 wins, eight seconds, and five thirds from 52 starts, for earnings of $534,854. After his racing career ended Flatterer came home to Pape's farm and lived there for 25 years.  Early on he took up a second career: dressage. With head tucked down and possessing a beautiful gait, Flatterer began earning ribbons. The dark bay champion was euthanized due to the infirmities of old age and was buried in his pasture at My Way Farm.

"He was never in a stall, he was out in the field for 25 years," Pape recalled. "When winter came we would throw a blanket on him. He went through a number of tough winters, but he had a run-in shed and he was good. He was such a low maintenance horse. He wasn't taking orders from anyone, he was doing what he wanted to do out in that field. Taking life as it came. And, what a remarkable and long life he had."

Princess to Japan
Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar was sold to Japan's Shadai Farm for $3.1 million, the top price at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall selected mixed sale in Lexington, Ky. in November. The 4-year-old Majestic Warrior filly, whose retirement was announced in September, was offered as a broodmare prospect only by owner-breeder Ed Stanco's King of Prussia Stables in Malvern, Pa.

She was born and raised at Ronnie and Betsy Houghton's Sylmar Farm in Christiana, Pa. and was there until she was sent to Todd Pletcher's racing operation at Belmont Park as a two-year-old. Princess of Sylmar won nine of 15 starts and earned $2,017,220. She won six of eight starts as a three-year-old in 2013 and probably would have landed the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly if she hadn’t headed to the West Coast to run in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita where she finished a disappointing sixth.

In 2014, the PA-bred Princess of Sylmar won just once from four starts, taking the listed Cat Cay Stakes before finishing a tight second to Close Hatches in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes and second to Belle Gallantey in the Grade-1 Delaware Handicap. She finished fifth in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes on August 22 in what would prove her career finale.

Smarty, Junior?
Breaking sharply and showing impressive speed all the way around the Parx oval, Someday Farm’s Nasa went gate to wire to win the $100,000 Pennsylvania Nursery on December 5.  A son of Smarty Jones, owned and bred by Smarty’s owner Patricia Chapman, Nasa became the first offspring of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness champion to capture the same stakes race his father had done so dramatically in 2003. Trained by John Servis, Smarty's conditioner. Nasa went off as the second choice in the wagering at 2-1.

With Kendrick Carmouche aboard, Nasa came out like a shot and went to the lead in the seven furlong test for state-bred two year-old colts and geldings. He never looked back. Nasa cut the corner turning for home, spurted to get clear of his rivals as they came inside the final furlong and slowly edged away in the final eighth of a mile. He flashed under the wire just over two lengths in front.

In his racing debut Nasa snatched an early lead and led throughout, cruising to victory in September at Parx. The Nursery was his second win in four starts, and first stakes win that pushed his first year’s earnings to just over $89,000.

Motions Honored
Thoroughbred Charities of America will honor Graham and Anita Motion with the Allaire duPont Leadership Award and the Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses (CANTER) with the TCA Industry Service Award at the 25th Annual Select Stallion Season Auction on Saturday, January 10 at the Keeneland Entertainment Center in Lexington, Ky.

The Allaire duPont Leadership Award, named for one of TCA’s founders, is presented annually to an organization or individual whose philanthropic endeavors are consistent with TCA’s mission. Graham and Anita Motion are tremendous advocates of thoroughbred aftercare and work to bring awareness to the success that thoroughbreds can find in second careers.

Last year they purchased former trainee, Icabad Crane, and sent him to Olympian Phillip Dutton for retraining as a three-day event horse. Icabad Crane has shown great promise to be a top level eventer and was recently named America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred at the recent Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover. The Motions are long-time supporters of TCA as well as other aftercare groups.

“We are both extremely humbled to be considered for this honor,” Graham Motion related.  “Like so many of our contemporaries who are dedicating similar levels of effort to Thoroughbred placement and aftercare, we feel we play a very small part in a large group of advocates for these equine athletes.”