01/06/2011 8:14PM

2010 Eclipse Awards: Percussionist

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Tod Marks

Denmark doesn’t even have jump racing, and that’s only part of the Percussionist story.

The Irish-bred, Danish-based steeplechaser raced in England, Norway, Sweden, and the United States in 2010. He finished fifth in Sweden’s Champion Hurdle. He won Norway’s. He captured the Grade 1 American Grand National, the richest jump race in North America at $250,000. And that’s only part of the Percussionist story.

The son of Sadler’s Wells and the Silver Hawk mare Magnificent Style was bred by the Sangster family’s Swettenham Stud. He raced on the flat with trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori among others. He won the 2004 Derby Trial Stakes at Lingfield, then placed fourth (beaten two heads for second) in the Epsom Derby itself. And that’s only part of the Percussionist story.

Percussionist brought 340,000 guineas to top the autumn horses-in-training sale at Doncaster in 2004. He split time as a jumper and a flat horse for top connections Graham Wylie and Howard Johnson, winning four times over hurdles, once over chase fences, and taking down the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup on the flat. And that’s only part of the Percussionist story.

Norwegian horseman Morten Buskop bought Percussionist from Wylie and Johnson in May 2010, looking for a classy jumper to race in Scandinavia and perhaps attempt an American invasion. Nine years old, carrying more than $500,000 in career earnings, Percussionist was some prospect. A software executive by trade, Buskop, his wife, Iben, and trainer, Hanne Bechmann, prepped their new charge with a flat race in Norway, a fifth over hurdles in Sweden, and then back-to-back Norwegian hurdle wins in August and September. And that’s still only part of the Percussionist story.

Buskop started plotting a return trip to the Grand National, in which he finished second with General Ledger in 2009. Percussionist, with maiden World Of Events for company, arrived a week before the race, spent time at a local farm, schooled over the American fences two days out, and then demolished a quality field in the 2 5/8-mile, Grade 1 Grand National in New Jersey. Percussionist rated off the pace, advanced into striking position, then used his flat speed to overwhelm Slip Away in the stretch while winning by seven lengths. A few days later, Buskop sold his two horses to leading American owner Irv Naylor.

And that’s the Percussionist story, so far anyway. The Eclipse Award finalist finished a tired sixth in the Colonial Cup for Naylor but should return as a player in the division in 2011.

Buskop gave credit to his horse and some special care for the historic win at Far Hills.

“He’s 9, so we really needed to get him sparkled up again, and we did that with TLC,” the owner said. “All respect for Howard Johnson, but he’s a big trainer and he keeps 160 jumpers. Basically, it’s quite simple. Pay attention to the small things, keep him happy. Take a class horse like this, get him into a small yard, and give him lots of attention.”

And you might get lucky. Percussionist blossomed under Buskop’s care, handled the marathon trip and all its details from Copenhagen to Amsterdam to JFK Airport in New York to Far Hills, N.J.

“He still has to come through and win, even if everything goes right; there were 12 horses in the race and 11 losers,” Buskop said of the Grand National. “We were second with General Ledger; we achieved that. I couldn’t even dream of winning, but I wanted to try. It’s a dream come true. I never thought I’d get him that good, good enough to win this race. Deep inside me, I thought there was a chance, but I didn’t dare think it or say it.”