01/06/2012 11:55AM

2011 Eclipse Awards: Decoy Daddy


The most consistent Thoroughbred who jumped in 2011, Decoy Daddy made seven starts in classy company, won three times, finished second twice, and topped $124,000 in earnings. He won two of American steeplechasing’s most historic stakes.

But he probably won’t win the Eclipse Award. He won’t even win best horse to compete in green, yellow, and white silks.

That’s what happens when Irv Naylor is your owner and his other horses include Eclipse finalists and Grade 1 winners Tax Ruling and Black Jack Blues. The former won the Iroquois and the Colonial Cup. The latter won the Grand National.

But that takes nothing away from Decoy Daddy’s year.

[MORE: Complete list of 2011 Eclipse Awards finalists | Vote for Horse of the Year and win]

The chestnut Irish import started 2011 at Aiken, S.C. in March, finishing second in the Imperial Cup. Next came a runaway victory in April’s Temple Gwathmey, a Grade 3 that dates to 1924 and counts Hall of Famers Lonesome Glory, Flatterer, Zaccio, Bon Nouvel, Neji, and Fairmount among its past winners.

In May at Nashville, Decoy Daddy tried the two-mile Marcellus Frost on the undercard of the Grade 1 Iroquois, thumping a quality field that included Aiken winner Country Cousin. Later on the card, Tax Ruling made his championship case by winning the Iroquois.

Trainer Tom Foley kept the ball rolling through the summer, and Decoy Daddy delivered another quality start with a runner-up effort in the Grade 2 A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga in August. The son of Lord of Appeal took a clear lead on the final turn but couldn’t withstand Divine Fortune’s late run. Two wins, two seconds, and a circuit-best $100,100 in four starts had people talking. Three weeks after the Smithwick, Decoy Daddy lined up in the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup and was scrapping – like always – on the final turn when he clipped heels and fell heavily. Bad luck strikes everyone eventually.

Foley regrouped and aimed for a fall campaign – with an audible. He bypassed the $250,000 Grand National, which Black Jack Blues won, on Oct. 22. Well rested, Decoy Daddy went back to racing in November and won his second consecutive Noel Laing Stakes at Montpelier, Va. First run in 1937, the Laing is named for a legend and has been won by Tuscalee, Tingle Creek, Zaccio, and 2010 champion Slip Away.

First or second in every race he had finished on the year, Decoy Daddy finally got his championship chance in the season-ending Colonial Cup Nov. 19. He whiffed, finishing a dismal 10th while never threatening as Tax Ruling won his second Grade 1. The defeat likely ended the title hopes of Decoy Daddy, but did little to quell his trainer’s enthusiasm.

“He’s just super classy, the coolest horse,” said Foley. “He’s tough, he knows, he wants to win, he wants to please you.”

Decoy Daddy was bred in Ireland by Charles Persse. He raced in Ireland with trainer Tony Mullins and owner Paddy Kehoe, winning four times over jumps and twice on the flat before being sold to Naylor in the fall of 2010. The now 10-year-old has won 4 of 9 American starts for earnings of $148,100.