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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Hall of Fame Trainer Jonathan Sheppard died Aug. 27

HOLLYWOOD, Fla.--Jonathan Sheppard, 82, who trained Eclipse Award winners both on the flat and in steeplechasing, died Sunday, Aug. 27, at his home in Hollywood, Fla.

Jonathan Sheppaard w. programJonathan Sheppard He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1990 and set training records that probably will never be matched much less broken.

Sheppard not only left his mark on racing with his horses but also imparted his knowledge to assistant trainers who went on to become top trainers in their own right.

One of his first assistant trainers, Janet Elliot, became the first woman to win a steeplechase training title, in 1991, and the first female trainer inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame, in 2009.

"I began in 1969 and worked for him 11 years,"said Elliot. "Yvonne Downs and I were the first two women who worked for Jonathan. I learned so much from him, 90 percent of that is what got my training going. Everyone adds their own bits to what they've learned"

"He had a very natural way of training horses, like turning out all the horses in training together, with their shoes on,"said Elliot. He had a second of sense about horses. He was a gentleman. He was tough but fair."


KERI BRION, who was his last assistant trainer, in her first year as a trainer saddled The Mean Queen to win an Eclipse Award and was the leading steeplechase trainer in Money Won in both 2021 and 2022.

jonathonsheppard"There aren't really words for what Jonathan meant to me," said Brion. "I worked for him for 11 years, and he taught me a lot. He was one of a kind. He had his own style of training. We all aspire to be able to do what Jonathan did."

"I could write a book on the lessons I learned about horsemanship and life in general from Jonathan," said Brion. "He made me who I am today, he pushed me to my limits believing in me often times more than I believed in myself, and ironically gave me the backbone I’ve needed to have since his retirement"

Leslie Young, who galloped horses Sheppard before and after college, was steeplechasing's champion trainer in 2022 with 37 victories, and she is current Leading Trainer, Races Won in 2023.

"When I was 16, I rode out for Jonathan summers," said Young. "In 1996 or 97, the year after I got out of college, I was an exercise rider for Jonathan for 2 1/2 years. I rode out for him and went to races with him. Even though he had a lot of horses, they were never factory trained. He had a huge operation  but really tried to do something different or change their routines as best he could to keep them happy, a ride through the woods, or a gallop at hundred acre field or a work at the track. I've tried to emulate the way Jonathan trained."

"When Paddy and I first started to train and had only a few horses, he let us come to his farm and school because we didn't have our  own hurdles," said Young.

"He was humble, intelligent and eccentric," said Young. "I loved his stories and his laugh. He will always be Legend." 

Another former assistant, Graham Motion, now trains out of the Fair Hill Training Center and has over 2,500 winners.

He was a Hall of Fame nominee in 2023 with, among his victories,  saddling Animal Kingdom to win the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup.

"Jonathan was my five years in college," said Motion. "He had a huge influence on me personally and in business. I worked for him fo rfive years, and it was a very important time in my life. He taught me the methods, the philosophy, I use now. He was such a strong personality."


SHEPPARD set records and made history in many ways.

jonathonsheppardWillowdaleHe was the National Steeplechase Association's all-time leading trainer by wins with 1,242 victories beginning in 1966, and his horses earned almost $25-million on the jumps circuit.

He was the steeplechase sport's leading trainer by wins a record 26 times, begining in 1972 and ending in 2020, the year he retired, and he led the earnings table 29 times,

He trained 11 horses that won 15 Eclipse Award winners and was one of only two who trained Eclipse Award winners both on the flat and over fences.

His Eclipse Award winners were Athenian Idol in 973); Cafe Prince in 1977 to 78: Martie’s Anger in 1979; Flatterer from 1983 to 86); Jimmy Lorenzo in 1988; Highland Bud in1989; Forever Together in 2008; and Informed Decision in 2009, both of those two winners on the flat; Mixed Up in 2009; Divine Fortune in 2013; and Winston C in 2019.

At a track at which all trainers try to have their best horses at the top of the game making it one of the most difficult at which to win, he won at least one race at Saratoga for 47 consecutive years, from 1969 to 2015.

He has two horses in the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y: Cafe Prince owned by Augustin Stables and Flatterer, owned by William Pape, George Harris, and Sheppard.

 He also trained another pair of top flat horses, With Anticipation and Storm Cat, who just missed the two-year-old male championship in 1985 but went on to be North America's leading sire in 1999 and 2000 and led the juvenile sire list a record seven times,

Over fences and on the flat, Sheppard had 3,426 victories from 20,997 starts and earnings of $88.7-million.

He trained horses that won on the flat and on turf, in sprints and distance races, and in steeplechase races.

Along with being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Sheppard was the National Steeplechase Association's president from 2004 to 2006, and he received steeplechasing's highest honor, the F. Ambrose Clark Award, in 2013 for his contributions to the sport.


DON CLIPPINGER wrote a piece about Sheppard for the Thoroghbred Daily News.

"Jonathan Eustace Sheppard was born Dec. 2, 1940 in Ashwell, about 45 miles north of London, to Daniel and Cynthia Sheppard. One of four children, he was raised around horses and became an accomplished jockey in point-to-point races, which were serious but unsanctioned race meets resembling America's steeplechase meets.

He could not progress beyond the point-to-points, however. Daniel Sheppard was a senior official of the Jockey Club in England, and conflict-of-interest rules limited the younger Sheppard's opportunities in sanctioned races. Also, he lacked the financial resources to begin training in his home country.

Sheppard traveled to the United States in the early 1960s and rode for Hall of Fame steeplechase trainer W. Burling Cocks. After a couple seasons, Sheppard returned home but came back to the United States in 1965 to see if he could succeed as a steeplechase trainer.

He would succeed beyond anyone's wildest dreams, although integrity and honesty rather than a bunch of early winners determined the trajectory of his career. In 1965, he had met George Strawbridge Jr., a scion of the Campbell Soup Co. family who was an accomplished amateur steeplechase jockey and wanted to spread his wings as an owner in the Augustin silks.

Early in their partnership, a Strawbridge horse sustained a leg injury in a race. Sheppard volunteered that the horse's bandages may have been too tight and jumping boots may have been applied incorrectly.

Strawbridge said in a late-1970s interview that he was impressed with Sheppard's forthright admission, and their relationship took off. Strawbridge's Augustin operation was steeplechasing's leading owner a record 23 times beginning in 1974.

Bill Pape, a well-known Long Island auto dealer, also joined the Sheppard team as he expanded his racing operation in the late 1960s, and they accounted for five Eclipse steeplechase champions over 40 years, from Athenian Idol in 1973 to Divine Fortune in 2013.

Behind Sheppard's gentle demeanor and lilting Etonian accent was a hard-working, highly motivated horseman who strived to outwork his competition. From his Ashwell base, he drove to tracks where he had horses stabled and where he saddled his starters. On at least one occasion, he was pulled over for studying Daily Racing Form past performances while driving on a major highway.

Both his work ethic and his accomplishments earned him a rare honor, one that will never be documented in any record book. In the steeplechase world, he was known by his first name alone. Say “Jonathan” to anyone in the jumps community, and the reference was immediately understood.

In that milieu, there was only one Jonathan, Jonathan Sheppard.

His death was attributed to complications from late-stage Lyme Disease. In addition to his wife of 33 years, he is survived by three children from previous marriages. Funeral services will be private, and a celebration of his life will be scheduled at a later date.

In his memory, donations to injured-jockey and racehorse-retirement charities are suggested."

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