08/04/2011 2:13PM

Saratoga: Divine Fortune comes off shelf for Smithwick repeat; extends Sheppard's Spa streak

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Barbara D. Livingston
Divine Fortune repeats in the A.P. Smithwick on Thursday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Divine Fortune, away from the races for 49 weeks, took over from Decoy Daddy with 50 yards to go and drew clear to win Thursday’s $75,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase by two lengths at Saratoga.

Decoy Daddy, who set the early pace before conceding the lead to Slip Away after the third fence, came back to finish second by 3 1/4 lengths over Nationbuilder, also trained by Sheppard. Slip Away and Dyanski completed the order of finish. Spy in the Sky did not finish the course.

This was the second straight year that Divine Fortune won the Smithwick. It was Sheppard’s sixth victory in the Smithwick – he also won it in 1998, 2002, 2007, 2009, and 2010 – and marked the 44th consecutive year he has won at least one race at a Saratoga meet. For good measure, Sheppard also took the next steeplechase race with Royal Rossi, who won a $53,000 allowance race.

Divine Fortune, owned by William Pape and bred by Pape and Sheppard, had not been out since finishing fourth in the New York Turf Writers Handicap last Aug. 26 at Saratoga. Sheppard explained that the 8-year-old gelding had a ligament problem in a hind ankle.

Divine Fortune had worked at Fair Hill in early July and competed in a flat race here during Open House Day on July 17.

In the Smithwick, Brian Crowley, subbing for the injured Danielle Hodsdon, had Divine Fortune in fifth position before moving him into second place following the eighth fence, with about one-half mile remaining.

Though he didn’t sail smoothly over the final fence in midstretch, Divine Fortune was able to overtake Decoy Daddy under right-handed encouragement from Crowley to get the victory. Divine Fortune covered the 2 1/16 miles in 3:49.20 and returned $9.30 to win.

“He’s a very nice horse, you can’t do it without the horse, I don’t care how fit you get them,” Sheppard said. “Brian gave him a very well-judged ride, it set up kind of the way we thought, though I wasn’t expecting Slip Away to take over the lead that early; it probably helped us because it maybe took a little bit out of Decoy Daddy.”

Though the Smithwick is considered the prep for the New York Turf Writers Cup later in the meet, Sheppard said he likely would not run Divine Fortune back in that race because the Smithwick winner usually picks up too much weight. Sheppard did say however that Nationbuilder, who finished third under 142 pounds in the Smithwick, would likely run back in the Turf Writers on Aug. 25.

“I was very happy with [Nationbuilder] because he looks like a little more distance would have helped him,” said Sheppard, who has won the Turf Writers Cup 13 times.