01/06/2011 7:40PM

2010 Eclipse Awards: Arcadius

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Tod Marks

For all the research, planning, and forethought that goes into the average mating, predicting Thoroughbred destiny can sometimes be akin to winter driving without a defroster.

Nobody knows for sure where these horses are going.

Steeplechase Eclipse Award finalist Arcadius was bred in Kentucky by Jayeff B Stable and sold at Keeneland September for $500,000, joining the mighty Coolmore operation in Ireland. Racing for Michael Tabor and Aidan O’Brien, Arcadius won once on the flat as a 3-year-old but moved on for 8,500 guineas at the Tattersalls horses in training sale in late 2007. A jumper by the following spring, Arcadius finished second in his Irish hurdle debut for owner and trainer John Halley and backed that up with a victory 10 days later.

On the trail after the horse’s first start, American trainer Jonathan Sheppard bought the 4-year-old Arcadius for client Ed Swyer’s Hudson River Farms after the victory. The return to America didn’t go so well at first as Arcadius missed the second half of 2008 with soundness issues. He made up for lost time in 2009, winning once in eight starts, placing in four stakes, and hinting at bigger things.

“He always seemed like a horse that had class, but maybe he wasn’t getting it all together,” said Sheppard. “With that breeding and he made that much money as a yearling, he makes you think the class and ability is there somewhere – you keep looking with a horse like that. This year, he got it all together.”

Sheppard found an easy spot to start 2010, the horse’s 6-year-old season, with Arcadius running away with a $30,000 allowance hurdle at the Carolina Cup meet in March. Arcadius normally does his best running late and did so that day, rallying in the stretch to clear Ambersham and win by 2 1/4 lengths. Racing in nothing but stakes the rest of the year, Arcadius finished third in the Grade 1 Iroquois at three miles, second in the Grade 2 A.P. Smithwick Memorial at 2 1/16 miles, second again in the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup at 2 3/8 miles, and won the Grade 1 Helen Haskell Sampson at Monmouth Park in September going 2 1/2 miles.

Arcadius’s season ended there, and he settled for third behind Slip Away and Percussionist in the 2010 earnings race with $124,500 from two wins, two seconds, and a third on the year.

Arcadius gained particular notoriety at Monmouth, as he gave Sheppard the 1,000th steeplechase win of his Hall of Fame career. The victory was vintage Sheppard. Arcadius started twice at Saratoga, finishing second to stablemates both times. In the Smithwick on Aug. 5, Arcadius couldn’t quite match Divine Fortune’s tempo late and settled for the runner-up spot, three-quarters of a length behind the winner. Three weeks later, in the Turf Writers, Sermon Of Love got first run in the stretch and beat Arcadius by a length.

Freshened a month between starts, Arcadius went back to work at Monmouth for the $100,000 Haskell Sampson, the headliner of a five-race steeplechase program at the New Jersey track Sept. 25. Arcadius let Slip Away set the pace, pulled alongside in the stretch, and prevailed late by a length. The win could have launched a fall championship campaign with two Grade 1 stakes remaining on the table, but Arcadius missed the rest of the year with an ankle injury, leaving the Grand National to foreign invader Percussionist and the Colonial Cup to Slip Away.

“We really took it one race at a time with him,” Sheppard said.

“We let him tell us, and he never ran a bad race. We learned he’s a legitimate contender at the top level, and he can be competitive. He’s not an old horse, and it’s conceivable he can be better yet.”

Sheppard will let Arcadius’s ankle heal and aim for a summer-fall campaign in 2011.