01/08/2015 10:04AM

2014 Eclipse Awards: Makari

Barbara D. Livingston

No one ever said Thoroughbred racing was easy.

Makari, a finalist for the steeplechase Eclipse Award, made just two American starts in 2014. He won the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial at Saratoga on July 31 by throwing his nose down on the line to defeat fellow finalist Demonstrative in a photo. Twenty-five days later, in the midst of a similar rally on the same turf course, he fell at the final fence of the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup and died.

The result was shocking, heartbreaking, and final for owner Merriebelle Stable, trainer Elizabeth Voss, jockey Jack Doyle – and anyone else there that Monday. The 7-year-old gelding, who won twice in England for top trainer Nicky Henderson in 2014, was just getting started and looked like a future star off the Smithwick effort. He was going to be first or second in the Turf Writers and kick toward a fall campaign of more tussles with race winner Demonstrative, Divine Fortune, and the other stars at the top of the division.

But for some reason – fate, mostly – it wasn’t meant to be. The nod from Eclipse voters provides a tribute to Makari’s ability and promise, however, even if it doesn’t bring back the horse.

Makari’s sire, Makbul (GB), won twice as a 2-year-old and developed a reputation for producing sprinters early in his stud career. Makari never followed his sire’s hoofprints, however, and made his debut in a two-mile National Hunt flat race at Haydock Park in November 2011. He finished second and lost three more “bumpers” before winning his hurdle debut almost a year later.

The tall, bay gelding won three times in 2013 and earned a trip to the famed Cheltenham Festival to start 2014. He finished 17th of 28 in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle.

Voss and her husband, Gary Murray, saw that race, liked Makari’s type, and tabbed him as one to watch for later. They thought he’d appreciate firmer ground and have some potential at Saratoga in the summer. He confirmed their opinion with back-to-back wins over the bigger chase fences in England.

“He’s a beautiful mover,” Voss said after the Smithwick. “Watching him gallop on the turf, he’s gorgeous. He came up for sale, and Gary was on it.

He thought from the get-go this would be a horse for Saratoga and that better ground and faster ground would suit him, and he was right.”

Purchased from Henderson’s yard after an early-June win at Newton Abbott, Makari arrived in the Voss barn in mid-July and earned his way into the Smithwick by looking sharp in morning preps.

“We just kept a close eye on him. If he wasn’t eating, if he wasn’t anything, we wouldn’t have run,” Voss said after the win. “Every day looked better and better, so we said we’d give it a shot.”

Makari delivered on the racetrack, winning the only Grade 1 not taken by Demonstrative or Divine Fortune in 2014.