01/06/2015 10:30AM

2014 Eclipse Awards: Demonstrative

Adam Coglianese

North America’s Grade 1 steeplechase schedule includes just six races. They range from 2 1/16 miles to 3 miles, May to November, Tennessee to New York, flat/fast racetracks to hilly/taxing racecourses.

Demonstrative made all six – putting up three wins, a second (by a nose), a third, and a sixth. The three Grade 1 wins led all 2014 steeplechasers. The $362,500 in earnings, the second-highest total for a season in history, did as well.

Not bad for a horse who came into 2014 with more questions than the SAT. What happened? Where did he go? What’s wrong? Will he ever get back to form? Was he really as good as everyone thought?

A dual Grade 1 winner in 2012, when second in the Eclipse voting, Demonstrative opened 2013 with a Grade 1 win and looked on the verge of stardom before losing his next four starts and looking merely ordinary. Owner Jacqueline Ohrstrom and trainer Richard Valentine ordered offseason wind surgery at Cornell University, but Demonstrative finished sixth behind Eclipse rival Divine Fortune in the Iroquois to start 2014.

Valentine called that effort better than it looked, took Demonstrative back to the farm in Virginia, and pressed on to Saratoga, where the real Demonstrative returned. Dismissed at 15-1 in the A.P. Smithwick on July 31, he battled Makari (GB) through the stretch but lost by a nose while looking like a winner an inch before and after the wire.

A 7-year-old Elusive Quality gelding, Demonstrative won his next three, each better than the last, to rise to the top of the division. The streak started in Saratoga’s New York Turf Writers on Aug. 25 (a half-length score while giving 12 pounds to runner-up Barnstorming), continued in Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory on Sept. 18 (a one-length win while conceding 18 pounds to second-place finisher Parker’s Project), and climaxed in the $250,000 Grand National on Oct. 18 (a 3 3/4-length dismantling of Divine Fortune at level weights).

The latter was Demonstrative’s best race and put to rest any talk that the demanding Far Hills course didn’t suit him.

“What a horse, what a horse,” Valentine said while walking to the winner’s circle that day. The trainer was confident before the race, and impressed afterward. His horse had come full circle after losing four times at the course.

Valentine said that Demonstrative had always made a “whistle noise,” and that in 2013, jockey Robbie Walsh heard him “gurgling.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if after his 3-year-old year that something maybe developed,” Valentine said. “He’s a big, coarse horse. Maybe we weren’t on top of it because we thought he was such a good horse. He’s gotten more professional and more grown up.”

Four weeks after Far Hills, Demonstrative finished third to Divine Fortune in the season-ending Colonial Cup but still won the season series 3-2, claimed the earnings crown, and held on to Eclipse favoritism.

Bred in Kentucky by Gainsborough Farm, Demonstrative was headed for more than jump racing but went 1 for 11 on the flat in England and was purchased by Valentine at the Tattersalls July sale in 2010.

Eleven wins and $819,800 earned over jumps later, Demonstrative stands on the edge of history as his 2015 may include a return to England for a major race this spring and a chance to make a pretty good run at American jump racing’s only millionaires, McDynamo and Good Night Shirt.