OZONE PARK, N.Y.--Jonathan Sheppard has received a very distinguished and very well deserved honor in the naming of a G1 steeplechase in his honor.
The New York Racing Association, Inc. announced that the G1 York Turf Writers Cup steeplechase stakes has been renamed in honor of the Hall of Fame trainer.
The G1, $150,000 Jonathan Sheppard for 4-year-olds and up going 2 3/8 miles is slated for Thursday, Aug. 19 during the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course.
"That's great," said Sheppard. "It was always one of my favorite races. It's at Saratoga, a track I love, and the race is run at one of longer distances that I like."
Sheppard, who has been living in Florida since the Covid shutdown, said that he planned to attend the race.
"Isn't that great," said Keri Brion, who was Sheppard's assistant trainer for over a decade before taking over training his horses when he retired. "We'll send everything we have in that race to try to win it for him.
SHEPPARD most recently won the race with Winston C, owned by Ed Swyer's Hudson River Farm, in 2019,
"Mr. Swyer is a great friend on Jonathan's, and he said he wanted to point Winston C towards that race to win it for Jonathan," said Brion.
What was known previously as the New York Turf Writers Cup is one of two G1 steeplechase races at the Saratoga meet, along with the $150,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial set for Thursday, July 22.
"It seems fitting that one of the premier steeplechase stakes in the country is going to be named in honor of Jonathan Sheppard,” said Bill Gallo, Director of Racing for the National Steeplechase Association. “He has been the dominant force in American steeplechase racing for decades and has always represented the sport in a positive way, particularly at Saratoga, where his success has gained national attention. We thank NYRA and the New York Turf Writers for honoring Jonathan in this fashion."
The 80-year-old Sheppard announced his retirement from American racing in early January.
He capped an incredible 56-year racing career in which he was the leading National Steeplechase Association trainer 26 times, campaigning 15 Eclipse award winners both over hurdles and on the flat.
Sheppard made an indelible mark on New York racing, winning at least one race at Saratoga for 47 consecutive years from 196 to 2015.
He was also the leading Saratoga trainer in 1984 and 1985.
Fittingly, Sheppard earned a reputation for dominating the New York Turf Writers Cup, figuratively stamping his name on a race he won 15 times before the announcement that his name will literally be synonymous with the contest.
"Jonathan Sheppard's long and storied career, in particular his accomplishments at Saratoga Race Course, will be remembered for years to come," said NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke. "His decades of commitment and success within the sport make this a well-deserved honor. It’s only fitting that he is celebrated with a stakes race at the Spa in light of his unprecedented streak of 47 years with at least one winner at Saratoga.”
The Ashwell, England native is the winningest trainer in U.S. jump racing history and is one of only two trainers to win championships with both flat and jump horses.
Equibase credits him with a career ledger of 3,426 wins with 3,099 runner-up efforts and 2,975 third-place finishes in 20,997 starts with earnings of more than $88 million.
Sheppard, an 11-time Colonial Cup winner, trained 15 Eclipse Award champions: Athenian Idol (1973); Cafe Prince (1977-78): Martie’s Anger (1979); Flatterer (1983-86); Jimmy Lorenzo (1988); Highland Bud (1989); Forever Together (2008); Informed Decision (2009); Mixed Up (2009); Divine Fortune (2013); and Winston C (2019).
In flat races, Sheppard produced impressive winners as well, with Informed Decision winning the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and Forever Together capturing the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf the year prior.
A 1990 Hall of Fame inductee, Sheppard continued building on a historic legacy for the next three decades.
In his final year of training in 2020, Sheppard finished on top in the NSA trainer standings, beating runner-up Jack Fisher, who had been the leading trainer nine years running.
The NSA is also honoring Sheppard with an accolade of its own.
The soon-to-be-released 2020 Yearbook, American Steeplechasing, a comprehensive review of last season’s races and a compendium of the sport’s history, is dedicated to the trainer who has left an indelible imprint on the turf, wrote Gallo in its dedication..
The dedication of this year's volume of American Steeplechasing seems so logical. natural and overdue.
Jonathan Sheppard has filledl the pages of this annual for more than five decades, certainly throughout my career with the NSA.
His name was the first I heard when I joined the Association in 1977.
I remember meeting him at the Atlanta Steeplechase that year, which kicked off the NSA season.
It was clear from that very first encounter that he was very much the central figure of the sport, the leading trainer and much more.
The "much more" would come over time, in the way of countless wins, records, achievements and honors, all the result of a commitment to purpose and a tenacity for excellence.
Over time, which has become a long time, Jonathan Sheppard not only remained the face of steeplechasing in America, but the heart and soul of it.
Furthermore, he crossed the boundaries between jump racing and flat racing so gracefully and successfully that he brought awareness and credibility to our sport, which often idles in anonymity.
To end the bizarre, Covid-compromised with Jonathan Sheppard winning a 26th trainer's championship seemed fitting and a perfect way to cap a career of accomplishment that will never be rivaled.
His impact on the sport will be everlasting, and for that, we thank him, wish him well in retirement and dedicate this edition to him.