01/05/2012 1:29PM

2011 Eclipse Awards: Tax Ruling

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Dynaformer–Fantastic Find, by Mr. Prospector. The bloodlines shout destiny, championship, quality, Eclipse Award even.

But in this category? At this age?

Eight-year-old Tax Ruling gets his championship moment as a finalist in the steeplechase division for 2011. He won a Grade 1 in May, another in November (no other 2011 jumper won two) to place second in the earnings race with $153,500. Bred by the Phipps Stable, trained by Shug McGaughey, Tax Ruling gave flat racing a try but never did start in the cherry and black – despite being related to Finder’s Fee, Treasure Island, Dancing Spree, Furlough, and so on. “I’m glad to see him doing good. All I remember is he was a great big, awkward, dark bay horse,” McGaughey said. “He was fine around here, but he wasn’t going to suit on the flat. There just weren’t any three-mile races for him.”

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

That last part was a joke. The only place a Thoroughbred can find a three-mile race is on the steeplechase circuit. Sold as a 3-year-old jump prospect in 2006, Tax Ruling made his hurdle debut that fall but showed little for owner Irv Naylor. He bounced through the barns of Bruce Miller (Lonesome Glory) and Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard but didn’t win. Sheppard even tried the horse on the flat with a fourth at Gulfstream Park and a second at Colonial Downs in 2007.

By 2008, Tax Ruling was a winner – taking a maiden hurdle for Desmond Fogarty (the horse’s fourth trainer) at Colonial Downs. The upward trend continued with a stakes score in 2009, a Grade 1 in 2010. And then came 2011.

Switched to trainer Brianne Slater in April, Tax Ruling won his second consecutive Grade 1 Iroquois Steeplechase in May. The three-mile race tests the depths of Thoroughbred stamina – something Tax Ruling possesses in spades – and the Kentucky-bred handed 2010 jump champion Slip Away a five-length defeat. Slater, who worked with trainer Sanna Hendriks during McDynamo’s championship seasons, gave her charge an extended break through the summer. He returned in October but flopped miserably behind Black Jack Blues in the Grand National. Slater regrouped and aimed for the season-ending Colonial Cup. Faced with his championship moment, Tax Ruling delivered like Tom Brady – winning the $100,000 Grade 1 (a factor in steeplechase titles since 1970) in a complete reversal of the Grand National debacle.

“It didn’t look like they were going that fast but that’s one thing about Tax Ruling, he stays and he covers the ground,” Slater said of the Colonial Cup. “I thought Far Hills was a little out of his comfort zone. He likes to have it his way – in his comfort zone, bowling along, in control. He doesn’t have a turn of foot. I don’t think he necessarily has to be in front but, like McDynamo, if he’s not in front or right there with a half-mile to go, he’s not going to win.” Tax Ruling has also made a career of being consistently inconsistent. In 25 lifetime starts (all but two over jumps), he has never won back-to-back starts, and his 2011 campaign included four tries – two Grade 1 wins and two no-factor losses. Still, he’s won six and is pushing $400,000 in lifetime earnings. Just like his breeding indicated.