11/13/2008 12:00AM

Jumping over the $1 million mark


The first American trainer of Thoroughbred racehorses to produce a million dollars in earnings for a single season was Horace Allyn Jones, better known as Jimmy, who turned the trick in 1947 with the main string of the Calumet Farm stable. By the end of the year, Jones had won 85 races and $1,334,805 in purses with horses like Armed, Faultless, Fervent, and a couple of 2-year-old named Citation and Bewitch.

"That's what can happen when things are breaking right for a racing stable," Jimmy Jones told biographers Joe Hirsch and Gene Plowden. "You just can't seem to do anything wrong, even if you try."

Even today, a million still has that ring, which is why it is worth the time and trouble to note that the first American trainer of steeplechase horses to produce a million dollars in earnings for a single season is John R.S. Fisher, better known as Jack, who did it this year and isn't finished yet.

Like Jones, Fisher is the son of a noted horseman, John R.S. "Doc" Fisher. Fisher's name is also synonymous with the 7-year-old Good Night Shirt, reigning champ among chasers and odds-on to win his

second straight Colonial Cup on Sunday at Springdale Racecourse near Camden, S.C. Good Night Shirt nailed down his first championship last year by defeating three-time steeplechase champion McDynamo in the Colonial Cup, though no such dramatic showdown looms this time around. Besides, Good Night Shirt already has cinched his second title with wins in four major 2008 events.

Still, the champ must be on his toes if he is to successfully negotiate the 17 natural brush fences of the 2 3/4-mile Colonial Cup course. This is not a challenge for the timid.

"This race has a little bit different fences," Fisher said Thursday, as Good Night Shirt headed to Camden. "So I like to school them once over those before they run. We've shipped a little bit earlier to school him there on Saturday."

Fisher noted that Good Night Shirt flubbed three fences in his five races during his '07 campaign, most notably at Belmont Park in the Lonesome Glory. He won that one anyway, but Fisher knew work needed to be done. This year, the horse has missed just one.

"I always describe him as a big, dumb kid, but he's kind of starting to figure it out now," Fisher said. "He's getting closer to adulthood."

Good Night Shirt is a son of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Concern, bred in Maryland by Tom and Chris Bowman and owned by Harold "Sonny" Via. Like most capable chasers, Good Night Shirt showed decent form on the flat,

winning twice at Pimlico at age 3. Give credit to turf writer and former steeplechase jockey Sean Clancy for plucking Good Night Shirt as a jump prospect and selling him to Via. Fisher has been training him since early 2005.

"He's a pretty big horse, but he is athletic," Fisher said. "He's not a big, dumb plodder. Big, dumb plodders just don't work anymore, at least in my opinion. A chaser now has to have some flat form. When I look for a jumper, they've got to have 80 Beyers."

Clancy's name pops up elsewhere in the Fisher history, attached to Fisher's first big horse, Saluter, a star of the 1990s over timbers. Clancy rode Saluter once, to a victory in the 1995 Middleburg Cup, but mostly it was Fisher who did the riding - 18 wins worth. Saluter is now retired and living at Fisher's Maryland farm.

"Clancy said he'd come out of retirement to ride this horse," Fisher said, referring to Good Night Shirt. "I gave him the opportunity down here in the Cup, but he backed out."

Clancy, who will be a first-time father in December, was wise not to take Fisher seriously.

"That started with a writer asking me how it felt to ride for Jack all those years, and then to sell him the best horse he's ever had and not be able to ride him," Clancy said. "That's when Jack made the 'offer.' If there was a horse I'd want to ride, though, it would be him."

At 45, Fisher is an established training star in a sport that still finds veterans Jonathan Sheppard, Tom Voss, Bruce Miller, and Sanna Hendriks ever on the attack. Fisher won his first title in 2003, repeated in 2004, and has now gone back to back for 2007 and 2008. Someone was going to pass that million mark in earnings sooner or later. Odds were good it was going to be him, especially with the emergence of Good Night Shirt, who has contributed nearly $400,000 to the stable total this year.

"I give Willie Dowling instructions for Good Night Shirt thinking the same way I did riding Saluter, or even the way Steve Asmussen deals with Curlin," Fisher said. "I remember when Curlin went five wide in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the rider was criticized. But when you are on the best horse in the race, you take it to them. Whatever they do, you always remember you're on the best horse. If they go fast, he can hang back. If they go slow, he can go to the lead.

"I go back to McDynamo," Fisher added. "When he walked in there, he was like the king. Good Night Shirt has that look about him, and luckily, so far this year nobody's really challenged him."