05/13/2017 7:57PM

Scorpiancer much the best in Calvin Houghland Iroquois

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Scorpiancer established himself as the early-season leader among American steeplechase horses with a dominating performance in Saturday’s Grade 1, $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tenn.

A Grade 1 winner during the fall at Belmont Park after finishing fourth in last year’s Iroquois, the 8-year-old Scorpiancer tuned up for the richest spring race on the National Steeplechase Association calendar by winning the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey going 2 1/2 miles last month.

In Saturday’s three-mile race over 18 National Fences, jockey Sean McDermott was committed to pressing pacesetter Andi’amu. After 10 fences, those two had opened a five-length gap on Dawalan, the 2015 Eclipse Award champion returning to the races after missing all of last season with an injury.

Dawalan dropped out of contention after stumbling badly at the 12th fence, turning the event into a two-horse race. Dawalan was eased through the stretch once it became apparent he could not finish among the top three.

Scorpiancer, meanwhile, spurted clear of a tiring Andi’amu, widened his advantage on the far turn of the final lap, and was an easy winner by 16 lengths, completing the distance over a course rated “good” in 5:37.

Hinterland, making his first start in 20 months, gave trainer Jack Fisher a sweep of the top two placings by taking second, 40 lengths ahead of Andi’amu.

“We planned to make it a stamina test and that’s what we did,” said McDermott of the decision to go out quickly on the front end. “I was very surprised when I looked back between my legs when we were coming down the backstretch and there was nobody there.”

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The 5-year-old Surprising Soul, coming off back-to-back wins at Aiken and Tryon by a combined 25 3/4 lengths, won the $100,000 Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle for novices by 2 1/4 lengths for jockey Ross Geraghty and trainer Ricky Hendriks. He completed 2 1/4 miles in 4:15.40.

Sarah Joyce, a 5-year-old mare who prepped by winning a ratings handicap at Charlotte on April 29, finished strongly under Jack Doyle to defeat French import Cibourne by 3 1/4 lengths in the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley for fillies and mares. Last year’s Henley winner, One Lucky Lady, was third, three-quarters of a length behind the runner-up. The winning time for 2 1/4 miles was 4:19.60.

Cornhusker, second in an allowance race six days earlier, won the $50,000 Mason Houghland Memorial, a three-mile race over timber, for the third time. Ridden by Mark Beecher for trainer Alicia Murphy, Cornhusker completed the course in 6:21.20 while winning by 2 1/4 lengths. He previous won the stakes in 2014 and 2015.