By Katherine Rizzo (First appeared in the March 2018 issue of The Equiery)
When Charlie Noell and Mike Hankin walked into a racing stable in Wales, Noell stopped at the first stall and refused to continue on. “He was looking at a brilliant-looking horse on the right of the barn and we couldn’t get him to walk in any farther,” Hankin remembered. There stood Scorpiancer, a 2009 bay gelding, and future Eclipse Steeplechase Horse of the Year.
Hankin, Noell and Charlie Fenwick, Jr. purchased the horse in 2012 for Bruton Street-US, with the intent to keep him in England to race. “We bought him as a three-year-old to run over brush, called ‘fences’ in England,” Hankin stated. “He was bred for that and was very gutsy.” Unfortunately, he wasn’t running as well as they hoped, so the Bruton Street-US owners decided to bring him to the states and see if champion trainer Jack Fisher could figure him out.
“He was a bit of a mental case,” Fisher said, adding, “he’s a nice horse, but I didn’t think he was that good at first.”
Fisher soon realized the horse had much more to offer than initially thought. “We started turning him out, which he didn’t get much of in England, and that was a key in getting him to calm down,” Fisher explained. “And we also let him stay out in front in smaller sets of only two horses, which he seemed to like.”
Connor Hankin became Scorpiancer’s US jockey and the pair soon started winning. “Connor was instrumental in turning this horse around,” Fisher said. After finishing fourth in the Jumpers Flat at Suffolk Downs in September of 2015, Connor and Scorpiancer won the Ratings Handicap Hurdle at the Races at Shawan Downs. Connor kept Scorpiancer at the back of the pack until the final turn where he let him loose, easily taking the lead and winning with increasing speed at the wire
Next up was another win, this time in the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle Stakes at Far Hills where he rallied on the final turn to take the lead over the last jump and again, finished with increasing speed.
In 2016, Scorpiancer and Connor raced five times before Connor enlisted in the US Marine Corps, and Sean McDermott took over the ride. Scorpiancer never finished farther back than fourth that season, and won the Lonesome Glory Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park in September of that year. His racing style was clicking into gear by this point and it was clear that he was a champion.
By this time in his US racing career, Scorpiancer had finished in the top three in four Grade 1 races and finished fourth in the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle Stakes (G1) outside of Nashville in 2016. He handily won this same race in 2017 by a 16-length victory.
Scorpiancer only raced twice in 2017, but did so in such style, winning both races. “Nashville last year is the highlight of his career for sure,” Fisher said. “He was just starting to get really good.” Scorpiancer won the Temple Gwathmey Handicap (G3) at the Middleburg Spring Races leading up to his Iroquois win. A tendon injury sidelined the winner for the rest of the season, but according to Hankin, “all tendon injuries are serious but this one was less serious.” Fisher said the horse is heeling well and added, “winning at Far Hills this fall is the goal.”
In addition to Scorpiancer, Fisher had Mr. Hot Stuff in the running for this year’s Eclipse Awards, but Fisher knew Scorpiancer deserved the win. “I though he should win. He was the only multiple winner in the group,” he said. Fisher went on to explain that the Colonial Cup typically ended up as a tie breaker when it came to Eclipse finalist but without that race on the fall schedule, “Scorpiancer was the obvious choice.”
Hankin was not as confident about the possibility of an Eclipse win as Fisher. “We all really thought Mr. Hot Stuff was going to win and we went to the ceremony to support the sport.” When Scorpiancer’s name was read as the winner, Hankin and company were thrilled. “He beat some tremendous horses and tries so hard to win,” he said.
© The Equiery 2018