01/08/2013 6:45PM

2012 Eclipse Awards: Pierrot Lunaire


If Pierrot Lunaire does not win the 2012 Eclipse Award as champion steeplechaser, his connections might want to lobby racing for the creation of a new honor. How about Comeback Player of the Year?

No horse – racing on dirt, turf, synthetic, or over the jumps – did more to revive his image in 2012 than this one. The Kentucky-bred began his 8-year-old season with three consecutive losses to extend his career winless streak to nine races and more than three years, then went on a tear with back-to-back Grade 1 triumphs for owner Mary Ann Houghland and trainer Blythe Miller Davies. The victories, in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park in September and the Grand National at Far Hills in October, gave the son of War Chant the 2012 steeplechase earnings title with $253,000 and a spot as an Eclipse finalist.

The turnaround came in part because of a change in philosophy as veteran trainer Bruce Miller turned some of the decisions over to his daughter, former champion jump jockey Davies. Often with his new trainer in the saddle, Pierrot Lunaire trained harder and faster and learned to like the work again. The gelding showed up at Belmont for the $150,000 Lonesome Glory looking for a reason to stay relevant. Racing without blinkers after four fruitless tries with them, he found it with an inspired effort to deny Spy in the Sky by a nose at almost 49-1. Jockey Bernie Dalton came along for the ride, but wasn’t completely shocked.

“I thought he ran well at Colonial Downs [a nonthreatening fifth in June] going shorter, and if he ran back to that he could be okay,” he said. “Being the underdog, you’ve got no worries, no pressure. If you finish second, everybody’s still happy. They said he was training real well, otherwise they wouldn’t have brought him.”

After Belmont, Pierrot Lunaire went back to work – splitting time between Miller’s farm in Pennsylvania and the Maryland farm (which used to belong to Hall of Fame trainer Sidney Watters Jr.) of Davies and her husband, Joe. For an encore, the veteran rallied through the stretch to win the $250,000 Grand National on steeplechasing’s biggest day at Far Hills. The victory came at the expense of tough stakes horse Divine Fortune, who led until the final yards, and chief Eclipse rival Demonstrative, who labored in the soft turf to finish fourth.

The victory proved the horse’s quality.

“He showed it at Belmont and he showed it again on this ground,” Dalton said at Far Hills. “The horse felt like he was a hand bigger today. He came out of Belmont with a bit of confidence, he had a good experience. It’s often stupid to say that about animals, but they know when they do well.”

Pierrot Lunaire skipped the season-ending Colonial Cup, which Demonstrative won – giving them both two Grade 1 scores on the year. Eclipse Award or not, the veteran turned back time. Bred by Skymarc Farm, he raced in France on the flat before joining the barn of top English jump trainer Paul Nicholls and winning twice. In 2009, Miller and longtime steeplechase owner Calvin Houghland imported Pierrot Lunaire specifically for the Iroquois Steeplechase. The newcomer didn’t disappoint, upsetting two-time American champion Good Night Shirt in Houghland’s hometown race. A former amateur jockey, Houghland died six months later, leaving the racehorses to his wife Mary Ann. She sold some, kept a few, and nearly gave up on one.

“He’s the only one left now,” Houghland said late in 2012. “Bruce kept saying we should keep trying, that he was getting better, that it was worth it.” Houghland wasn’t so sure, but went along with the plan. Her horse did the rest.