08/05/2010 2:21PM

Divine Fortune heads one-two finish for Sheppard in Smithwick Steeplechase

Barbara D. Livingston
Divine Fortune, ridden by Danielle Hodsdon, leads a one-two finish for trainer Jonathan Sheppard in the A.P. Smithwick Steeplechase.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Neither rain nor a slight misstep midway through the race could keep Divine Fortune from his destiny on Thursday, as he wore down favored Slip Away and then held off stablemate Arcadius to take the Grade 2, $75,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase Stakes to begin a soggy day at Saratoga.

At the end of 2 1/16 miles, Divine Fortune ($7.40) won by three-quarters of a length over Arcadius, giving trainer Jonathan Sheppard a one-two finish in the race. Slip Away, sent off the even-money favorite, led until the last fence but then faded late to finish third, a head behind Arcadius. The Price of Love, who was coupled in the wagering with Divine Fortune, finished sixth in the seven-horse field. Dynantonia, as expected, was scratched.

Danielle Hodsdon rode Divine Fortune, who completed the distance on a course still rated firm in 3:58.98.

Rain began to fall shortly before the race began, but all seven jumpers seemed to get over the ground fairly well. Divine Fortune bobbled slightly when approaching a fence beginning the final lap around the course, but he quickly recovered.

“The race didn’t go exactly as we planned,” Sheppard said. “I think they wanted to get Slip Away off the pace, but he had other ideas.”

Sheppard credited Hodsdon with keeping Divine Fortune in the clear throughout the race.

Divine Fortune sat second, about four lengths behind Slip Away but well clear of the rest of the field, for the first 1 3/4 miles of the race.

Divine Fortune, 7, has now won 5 of 16 starts over the jumps. This was his first victory in a graded stakes race since September 2007. He was away from the races for more than two years, from November 2007 to November 2009. Divine Fortune, a gelding, is a son of the towering stallion Royal Anthem. He is owned by William Pape.

Sheppard, who bred Divine Fortune alone with Pape, said Divine Fortune would return in the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers on Aug. 26.

Morrissey: Endless Circle upsets Driven by Success

Endless Circle, claimed for $14,000 by trainer Rudy Rodriguez in April, became a stakes winner on Thursday, putting away odds-on favorite Driven by Success in upper stretch before splashing clear to a four-length victory in the $70,000 John Morrissey Stakes for New York-breds.

Driven By Success, second as the 2-5 favorite in this race last year, finished second again at odds of 2-5 after dueling with the winner for more than four furlongs. It was 3 1/2 lengths back to Legal Consent in third. Legal Consent was vanned off after being diagnosed with lameness in his left foreleg.

Endless Circle was running back just 10 days after finishing second to Checklist in a third-level open company allowance race. That day, he broke slowly and was behind horses. Thursday, from the outside post, he broke alertly and ran an opening quarter in 22.29 seconds with Driven by Success to his inside. John Velazquez took a hold of Driven by Success in an attempt to get to the outside of Endless Circle, who got a half-mile in 45.47 seconds.

Driven by Success attempted to re-engage, but Endless Circle ran away from him in upper stretch and won convincingly. Endless Circle, a 6-year-old son of Precise End owned by Vincent Scuderi and James Riccio, covered 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.66 over a sloppy and sealed track and returned $9.40 to win.

“He normally runs better in front,” jockey Edgar Prado said. “Last time he broke a step slow and he had to work his way between horses and still ran good. Today, he broke good, it seemed like he was cruising along nice and easy. I took a light hold on the backside. It seemed like the other horse didn’t want to go, so I let him cruise along. He was just ready to go today.’’

– additional reporting by David Grening