07/31/2012 2:22PM

Saratoga: Divine Fortune leaps for three-peat in Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase

Barbara D. Livingston
Divine Fortune will be seeking his third straight Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase victory on Thursday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Divine Fortune has won the last two renewals of the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase. The 9-year-old gelding will try for a three-peat when he heads a full and talented field of jumpers that includes the multiple-Grade 1-winning Tax Ruling in the second of two hurdle races scheduled to kick off Thursday’s 11-race program at Saratoga.

Divine Fortune stalked the pace en route to a three-quarter-length decision over Arcadius in the 2010 Smithwick. He rallied from a bit farther back to defeat Decoy Daddy by two lengths to successfully defend his title last summer. Divine Fortune has started just twice in 2012, winning an allowance race to begin his campaign before finishing second behind Arcadius in the Grade 1 Iroquois on May 12.

The path to a third Smithwick title for Divine Fortune became just a little more difficult last week when the son of Royal Anthem, a seven-time winner over the jumps, suffered a bruised heel that had trainer Jonathan Sheppard a bit concerned whether his horse would be able to make the race. But the foot healed quickly, and Divine Fortune was able to come back to work five furlongs over the Oklahoma turf course earlier this week.

“He had a bruised heel, but he appears to have come out of it okay,” said Sheppard who has won the Smithwick six times, including each of the last three years. “It’s day by day with him, but as long as he comes out of the work okay, he’ll be able to run. I’m happy with the way he’s coming up to the race. We were disappointed he did not draw into a flat race I entered him for on the open house Sunday, because he hadn’t run since the middle of May and I wanted to get a nice tune-up on the flat, which he didn’t get. He may just not be quite as tight as I’d like him to be. But he did have a nice enough work 10 days ago and another on Monday.”

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Sheppard admitted it would be quite a feat for Divine Fortune, who carries 154 pounds, to win the Smithwick three years in a row.

“It’s a strong field, there’s quite a lot of very good horses in there, and he’s giving quite a lot of weight to some of them, including my other horse, for example, Nationbuilder, who is a nice horse himself and carries only 142 pounds,” Sheppard said. “It’s not going to be easy.”

Nationbuilder, a multiple stakes winner over the hurdles, finished a distant third under equal weights in the Iroquis and is still searching for his first win since October 2010.

Tax Ruling will carry high weight of 158 pounds by virtue of his three Grade 1 victories, which include a 1 1/4-length decision over Divine Fortune last fall in the prestigious Colonial Cup. Trained by Brianne Slater, Tax Ruling will be making his first start at Saratoga in nearly three years. He is part of a four-horse entry owned by Irvin Naylor that also includes Decoy Daddy,Via Galilei, and The Jigsaw Man, the last three all hailing from the barn of Joseph Delozier III.

Decoy Daddy finished second in the 2011 Smithwick, but fell three weeks later when returning as one of the choices in the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup. He finished far back in his only start this year, which came in the Iroquois. Via Galilei has won two graded stakes in three starts since coming to the United States earlier this year, while The Jigsaw Man makes his U.S. debut in the Smithwick.