01/05/2018 12:16PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: Scorpiancer (IRE)

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Scorpiancer had a brief but brilliant campaign in 2017.

The 8-year-old gelding made just two starts, less than a month apart, and won two of the most prestigious American jump races at the start of the season – the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey Handicap at Middleburg, S.C., on April 22, and the Grade 1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois Steeplechase at Percy Warner Park, outside of Nashville, Tenn., on May 13.

That was it. Despite the short campaign, Scorpiancer is a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the outstanding steeplechaser of 2017.

Racing for Bruton Street-US, a partnership of Mike Hankin and Charlie Noell, and trained by Jack Fisher, Scorpiancer was expected to perform at the highest level in 2017. In 2016, Scorpiancer won the Lonesome Glory Handicap at Belmont Park and was second in the Grand National at Far Hills in New Jersey in his final two starts of the year.

“He improved all fall and then this spring he was better,” Fisher said in early 2017.

Scorpiancer was second by 15 lengths in the 2016 Temple Gwathmey Handicap behind Rawnaq, the champion steeplechase that year. In the 2017 running of the $50,000 race, Scorpiancer was always handy for jockey Sean McDermott and caught pacesetter Portrade at the final obstacle to win the 2 1/2-mile race by a neck. Portrade, who won the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga, was 12 lengths clear of third-place finisher Mr. Hot Stuff in the field of five.

Comparatively, there was no suspense in the $200,000 Iroquois at three miles, the richest race of the spring season. Scorpiancer took a convincing lead on the backstretch of the final circuit and cruised to the finish as a 16-length winner under McDermott.

“I didn’t think it would be this easy,” McDermott said.

Plans for a summer and fall campaign were curtailed after Scorpiancer was diagnosed with a tendon injury after the Iroquois, Fisher said. There would be no more starts in 2017, but there are plans under way for a fall campaign in 2018.

“He’s out in a field,” Fisher said in early January. “He should be back.”

Scorpiancer was recognized as the leading jumper of the year on the National Steeplechase Association’s Theoretical Handicap of the 29 horses that won or placed in NSA open and novice stakes in 2017. Scorpiancer was rated at 158 pounds, 10 pounds higher than the Fisher-trained Mr. Hot Stuff, who was second on the list. The list was compiled by NSA director of racing Bill Gallo Jr.

Scorpiancer has won 6 of 18 starts and earned $455,360 in a career that began in Great Britain in 2014. Bred in Ireland by Mary O'Connor, Scorpiancer has won four stakes since arriving in the United States in summer 2015.