01/18/2010 1:00AM

This year, Mixed Up won when it counted


Big, rangy, and thick through the heart, steeplechase champions of the past could run all day, jump like stags, and make witnesses wax nostalgic.

Mixed Up, the Eclipse Awards champion jumper of 2009, is not your father's steeplechaser.

Small, athletic, and quick, he won going 5 1/2 furlongs in 2002. He took a Pennsylvania-bred stakes on the flat in 2004. He once ran a 90 Beyer Speed Figure. He made morning clockers take note with near-bullet works on the Saratoga turf. Through a flat career that included six wins for owner Bill Pape and trainer Jonathan Sheppard, Mixed Up looked like anything but a steeplechase prototype. He made the conversion anyway, and paid dividends with a maiden win in 2004 and a novice stakes score in 2005. He graduated to Grade 1 winner in 2006 and found a comfortable spot among the top stakes horses.

But he came up short in the division's championship races late in the year - never winning after August and finding the likes of McDynamo and Good Night Shirt too tough to handle.

That all changed in 2009 as Mixed Up finished the season on top with four wins and $184,495. The only steeplechaser to win two Grade 1 stakes in 2009, he capped his campaign with a victory in the Grade 1 Colonial Cup over a field that included four other championship hopefuls.

"Of the better horses, he had the best year," Sheppard said. "He's been at the top of the division for a spell here and there, but things seemed to fall off for him in other years. This year, he came through. To be 10 years old and run a race like that? It's a really neat way to cap his career, not that he's finished."

A Pennsylvania-bred son of Carnivalay, Mixed Up started just twice in 2008, so entered 2009 with conditions. He won a restricted stakes at Aiken in March and dominated allowance foes at Block House in April. He added a Grade 1 score at Saratoga in the A.P. Smithwick in August, weathered dull efforts in the New York Turf Writers Cup and the Lonesome Glory, and came through in the finale.

Founded in 1970, the Colonial Cup tests horses with its 2 3/4-mile distance and 17-fence layout. The race's honor roll includes legends McDynamo, Lonesome Glory, Flatterer, Zaccio, Cafe Prince, and others. Mixed Up found his spot among the giants by rallying from fourth at the last fence, splitting horses in deep stretch, and catching Red Letter Day to win by a neck.

"I knew jumping the last that I had every shot because they were hitting their horses and I wasn't," Hodsdon said. "There was a gap to the outside between two horses. That was the straight path, that's where I sent him, but they tightened up and I had to check him out and go back to the inside. He tried so hard. That's all on heart."

Sheppard's 2009 included banner seasons from flat standouts Informed Decision, Forever Together, Just As Well, and Cloudy's Knight - but the Hall of Famer did some of his best work with Mixed Up. Sheppard took his horse off Lasix, found easy spots early, used Colonial Downs as a prep for Saratoga, skipped the year's richest race at Far Hills in October, and found a way to get Mixed Up to rebound from two losses late in the year.

Mainly, Sheppard coaxed stamina from a horse with the speed of a sprinter.

"He gets the trip when the conditions are right," Sheppard said. "Belmont was not right for him because there wasn't a strong enough pace and he got muddled up. Far Hills is not right for him. [The Colonial Cup] really came together for him - he could stay close to a fast pace and then he was able to be the one who quickened. He can still really sprint late in his races."

Just like in the good old days.

Sheppard and Pape won steeplechase Eclipse Awards with Flatterer (1983-86), Martie's Anger (1979), and Athenian Idol (1973), but Sheppard has not trained a steeplechase Eclipse winner since Highland Bud in 1989.