01/08/2013 6:45PM

2012 Eclipse Awards: Demonstrative

photo by: Adam Coglianese/NYRA

Oh what might have been.

Trainer Richard Valentine won two races in four weeks at Saratoga with classy steeplechaser Demonstrative, then mapped out a plan for the rest of the year. The Grade 1 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park in September, Grade 1 Colonial Cup to finish the year in November. Skip the unknown of soft turf at Far Hills in October. Then somebody stole the plan and burned the map.

In the paddock with the odds-on favorite at Belmont, Valentine was forced to scratch when jockey Robbie Walsh and likely backup Matt McCarron went down with injuries a race earlier. Demonstrative left the paddock and shipped home to Virginia as Pierrot Lunaire upset the $150,000 stakes.

Out of options, Valentine went to Far Hills for the $250,000 Grand National. As it often does, the New Jersey course came up soft after getting pounded with rain the day before. Demonstrative ran anyway and finished fourth, the conditions thwarting his usual late charge. Pierrot Lunaire summoned another strong effort and won the Grand National to take the earnings crown and push into the championship discussion.

November’s Colonial Cup offered a final chance to settle the case. Worth $100,000, the season finale trails the Grand National in dollars, but takes a backseat to no race with a reputation for greatness spanning the careers of Cafe Prince, Zaccio, Flatterer, Lonesome Glory, McDynamo, and so on.

Demonstrative did his part – delivering the performance of the year with a last-to-first rally after the final fence. Pierrot Lunaire stayed home, though it did little to diminish the winner’s season-ending performance.

“He was extended down the back with a mile to go, just getting outrun or that’s what it looked like,” Valentine said. In the stretch, said the trainer, “man, he looked like a black train coming down there on the outside. It just tells you how special a horse he is.”

Owned by Jacqueline Ohrstrom, Demonstrative completed an ascension that began with a 3-year-old hurdle championship in 2010 and progressed into a solid novice season in 2011. He has won at least two races in every season as a steeplechaser and ranks with any recent young horses converted to the sport.

Like most Thoroughbreds, this bay son of Elusive Quality was destined for something else. Bred by Gainsborough Farm in Kentucky, he went to England and raced on the flat for Sheikh Hamdan and trainer Mark Johnston. Demonstrative won once, going seven furlongs on the all-weather surface at Southwell in February 2010. By summer, he was on the block at Tattersalls – where Valentine shops frequently. The trainer paid 25,000 guineas, or about $42,000. His horse has earned $326,300 since.

Demonstrative’s 2012 season started much like that of his main rival Pierrot Lunaire – with defeats. In April, he lost Walsh with a jumping mistake while out of contention in a novice stakes. In June, he finished a dull sixth in the Zeke Ferguson at Colonial Downs.

Valentine hated the second performance and ordered a battery of tests. Demonstrative was positive for equine protozoal myeloencephalitis or EPM, a virus that affects the spinal cord and brain stem. Left untreated, it results in a loss of coordination, muscle atrophy, and worse. Caught early, EPM can be stopped and horses can bounce back quickly.

After treatment, Valentine liked what he saw and aimed for Saratoga, where Demonstrative won the Jonathan Kiser novice stakes at better than 15-1. Out of conditions, Demonstrative aimed for open company and headed to the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup four weeks later. Sent off at nearly 6-1, he charged through traffic in the stretch to win by a length and leap into the title picture.

“He never missed a beat, except for the EPM thing,” Valentine said. “You never know [about championship votes], but I know he had a great year.”