WEST GROVE, Pa.--Hudson River Farms’ Winston C, trained by Jonathan Sheppard to easily wIn Saratoga Race Course’s two G1 jump races, was honored Thursday evening with the Eclipse Award as North America’s champion steeplechase horse in 2019.
An Irish-bred gelding by Galileo’s son Rip Van Winkle, Winston C won over two other G1 winners: Michael Buckley’s Brain Power, who came from England to win Far Hills’ Grand National, but only ran that one time in this country, and Bruton Street-US’s Scorpiancer, the 2017 Eclipse Award champion who won the Calvin Houghland Iroquois for a second time but didn't run in Saratoga and finished behind Winston C in the Lonesome Glory.
Winston C and other Thoroughbred champions were honored at the 49th annual Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
Accepting the Eclipse Award was Hudson River Farms owner Edward P. Swyer, who was accompanied by Sheppard’s assistant, Keri Brion, jockey Thomas Garner, and National Steeplechase Association director Eve Ledyard.
"OUR HALL of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard made the bold and instinctive decision to enter Winston in the Grade 1Smithwick after a novice third-place finish," said Swyer. "Tom Garner,Winston's rider, spent many full days schooling Winston to adjust his balance from UK hurdles to U.S. steeplechase hurdles.Thank you, Tom for working so intensely, often full days. Andt hank you for the brilliant ride in the Smithwick. Thank you to Keri Brion. It's been a joy working with you and your team.And congratulations to the connections of Scorpiancer and BrainPower. By sharing the nomination with them, it puts Winston C in a rare class of exceptional jumpers. Thank you to everyone here tonight sharing this moment."
Although he didn't appear on stage to accept the award, Sheppard was at the Eclipse Awards.
"I was there," said Sheppard. "I just let the girls go up with Ed for the presentation, and I stayed at the table."
Sheppard said that his plan for next year would be to run Winston C in a prep race, perhaps at Middleburg, and then go in the first major G1 race of the year at Iroquois.
Winston C, bred in Ireland, had only 2 wins out of 12 starts on the flat in England the flat, but was third in his first start over hurdles in 2018 and then won three hurdle races in England in 2019
As a 5-year-old, he won his first start of 2019 on Jan. 5, a maiden hurdle at Wincanton in England, with champion jockey Noel Fehily in the saddle.
Winston C won his next two starts over hurdles on Feb. 2 and March 23.
"Fehily told Tom Garner about Winston C.," said Brion. "Tom told me, and I call Ed Swyer."
Swyer, who lives part-time in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., has been a Sheppard client for more than 30 years, and he particularly likes to run hoses in Saratoga, where he has a lot of friends.
"This was Ed's first Eclipse Award." said Brion. "He really deserved it after 30 years."
Winston C made his last start in England at Aintree, where he finished fifth in a Novices hurdle on April 5, then was imported to this country and made his first American start in the Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle on May 11..
Well back early, he finished a closing third, beaten three-quarters of a length by City Dreamer.
When he had arrived in this country, Winston C was thin and his coat was poor after a hard winter in England, having raced four times in four months.
Going to Sheppard's Ashwell Stables in West Grove, Pa., Winston C grew and matured over the next two and a half months.
Sheppard skipped the Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes for which Winston C was eligible on July 24 and went straight into top-level competition in Saratoga’s G1 A. P. Smithwick Memorial the following day.
He was at the back of a packed, experienced 12-horse field for more than 1½ miles of the Smithwick’s 2 1/16-mile distance, made a big move on the final turn, went to the front before the furlong pole and opened up to win by 3½ lengths under Garner.
His next race was Saratoga’s G1 New York Turf Writers Cup on Aug. 22.
Garner's mount fell at at Colonial Downs just four days before the Turf Writers, and he broke his left collar bone, but he was cleared to ride in the New York Turf Writers.
Garner again had Winston C back in the field early in the 2 3//8 mile race, asking him to run on the final turn, putting away the competition at the top of the stretch, opening up through the stretch to win by an impressive 8 3/4 lengths.
"He couldn't use his arm at all," said Brion. "When he came back after the race he couldn't even raise his arm."
Swyer had a lot of his friends at Saratoga for the Turf Writers, and there were big celebrations.
Winston C's next race was Belmont Park’s G1 Lonesome Glory Handicap on Sept. 19.
Winston C had traffic problems, but he still didn't have his usual kick, and he finished fourth, 7½ lengths behind Wendy Hendriks' Surprising Soul.
"What we didn't realize at the time was that he had a very serious throat infection when he ran in the Lonesome Glory," said Brion. "He hadn't been coughing before the race. He didn't run to par, so after the race, we scoped him, and his throat had big puss balls on it. He was out of work for three months. He still ran fourth even with that terrible infection."