01/08/2014 12:45PM

2013 Eclipse Awards: Gustavian

photo by: Tod Marks

Giant's Causeway. Mossflower. A $325,000 Saratoga price tag. A spot in Graham Motion’s barn. Gustavian was destined to be an Eclipse Award finalist. Just not in this category.

The now 8-year-old Gustavian became a steeplechaser in 2011 and leaped into the competitive 2013 championship picture with a Grade 1 win in the $150,000 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park in September. The victory highlighted a consistent year for Gustavian, who finished second in two stakes and third in another as part of a five-start campaign. With a third strong season, Gustavian ran his steeplechase record to 4 wins, 8 seconds, and a third in 15 starts.

"He always runs his race," jockey Paddy Young said after the Belmont win. "It's been bad luck and bad timing on my part or he would have won five of those races. He’s never going to win by two or three lengths. It’s always going to be that short margin."

Young’s wife, Leslie, trains Gustavian, who began 2013 racing for owner Hickory Tree Farm but was sold to Maggie Bryant just before the Lonesome Glory.

Like many steeplechasers, Gustavian has a backstory. Whitewood Stable sent Mossflower, who won the 1998 Hempstead for trainer Rick Schosberg, to Giant’s Causeway in 2005. The resulting foal went to Saratoga for the Fasig-Tipton yearling sale in 2007. He drew a $325,000 bid and joined Motion’s stable for Hickory Tree. Gustavian didn’t run until the summer of his 3-year-old year. He won twice that fall, but lost his next five, including starts at Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Santa Anita, and Colonial Downs.

Considering a career change for his horse by summer 2010, Hickory Tree’s Jim Treptow called Leslie Young, a former classmate of his daughter Cheris. Gustavian took to the new task of steeplechasing, winning twice in 2011, his first season. In 2012, he won a novice stakes at Belmont in September and finished second four times.

The 2013 campaign looked eerily similar as the Youngs started out conservatively with spring Grade 3 tries – a third to Decoy Daddy in April, a second (also to Decoy Daddy) in May. They nearly tried Saratoga, but opted to pass and were rewarded with a fresh horse come September. Against eight rivals – all coming off starts at the Spa – Gustavian got in with a feathery 144 pounds and broke through with a gutsy nose triumph over All Together in the Lonesome Glory.

The victory came without Treptow, however, as Gustavian was sold to Bryant days before the race and delivered an immediate reward for the Virginia owner. Like every 2013 championship contender, Gustavian couldn’t duplicate the run in two subsequent Grade 1 tries as he finished second to Divine Fortune in the Grand National in October and lost his jockey with a late mistake in November’s Colonial Cup.

Though Paddy Young rode 2010 champion Slip Away, the Eclipse consideration is a first for the Youngs, whose small stable is based in Pennsylvania and won seven races in 2013. Gustavian is the unquestioned star of the barn.

"He excels in our place and seems to enjoy the way we train them,” Paddy Young said. “He is the big horse in the barn. We’ve got nothing in the barn as close to as good as he is. He gets the best paddock, he’s first fed, first out. He gets acupuncture. Little things like that make a difference."