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71st Running of the Iroquois Steeplechase Ends in Sadness
Through the finish of the seventh (last) race, it had been a perfect race day for the 71st running of the Iroquois Steeplechase at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tennessee, with cool temperatures, occasional misting rain, good turf conditions, and no injuries or mishaps to mar the event. The day culminated in an outstanding trifecta win for Jonathan Sheppard, trainer of the first, second, and third placed horses in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois. Hudson River Farms’ and Edward P. Swyer’s Arcadius, ridden by Brian Crowley, captured the prestigious win and the $150,000 purse, having thwarted Tax Ruling’s try for a record-breaking third win of the Iroquois. Divine Fortune owned by William L. Pope was second with Darren Nagle up, and Mrs. Calvin Houghland’s Nationbuilder was third, ridden by Danielle Hodsdon. Tax Ruling came in fourth.
After the win, jockey Brian Crowley had posed for mounted photos, dismounted, untacked, and was on his way to the final weigh-in, as the winning horse Arcadius was headed for the cool down station.
Suddenly, the horse was down, lying on his left side, legs straight out, as veterinarians and race staff fervently worked to aid the eight-year-old gelding in his distress. First suspecting possible heat stroke, extra measures were taken to cool the horse. Reporters, photographers, and race personnel all watched in shock as the winning horse lay on his side, hoping veterinarians could restore his health. I walked over to Arcadius’ groom Mike Benson, as he stood on the track holding the horse’s halter and bridle. “Is he going to make it?” I asked. He replied with tear-filled eyes, “He’s gone.” An “autopsy later Saturday showed Arcadius died from a pulmonary aneurysm, a bulge in the wall of the pulmonary artery, which carries blood to the lungs,” said Jeff Bradford, public relations director for the Iroquois.
Tennessee Equine Hospital veterinarian Dr. Monty McInturff told the press, “What was different about this was that this horse completed the race and he won the race beautifully, and when he was cooling down it appears that he had a heart attack. That is very uncommon.”
There were six veterinarians at the track Saturday.
Race chairman Dwight Hall told the press, “We have a great cool-down area right at the finish line, and then we have a secondary cool-down area where they come off the track. That’s two times where they’re getting cooled down to avoid any kind of heat problems.”
But with temperatures in the 70s and cloudy skies, overheating was not the issue. That’s why Hall said the safety measures that had been taken did not help Arcadius. “An aneurysm is absolutely unpreventable,” Hall said.
Earlier in the day
Trainer Jonathan Sheppard began the day in victory, as his own horse, Bluegrass Summer won the first race, the Guilford Dudley, Jr. Memorial Flat Race.
In the third race, the Marcellus Frost, Parker’s Project, owned by Hudson River Farms and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, was the winner with jockey Darren Nagle up. Sheppard said this was a very special win for him since he had raised the horse from a colt, had owned his dam, and named him for a son.
In the fourth race, the Margaret Currey Henley filly and mare hurdle stakes, Sweet Shani, Jonathan Sheppard’s entry and the 2011 winner of the race, was pulled up by jockey Danielle Hodsdon. That left the other grey horse in the race, Ptarmigan, ridden by Willie McCarthy, coming in second behind Quiet Flaine, piloted by Jeff Murphy. The first and second placed horses, Quiet Flaine and Ptarmigan are half sisters. Both were bred by owner Magalen O. Bryant, and both were trained by Doug Fout.
Before the fifth race, the winners and exhibitors in the annual hat contest were announced. Nashville’s nFOCUS magazine organized and sponsored the contest. DSC_4289: winner of the hat contest.
In the fifth race, the George Sloan and John Sloan Sr. maiden hurdle, Virsito with jockey William Dowling claimed victory over En Fuego with Xavier Aizpuru aboard.
In the sixth race, the Mason Houghland Memorial timber stakes, Woodslane Farm’s Lion’s Double upset Mecklenburg with a 1 3/4-length lead. Delta Park finished third. After the race, winning jockey William Dowling commented, “I feel sorry for the second [place]. He was trained by my wife.” Mark Beecher rode second placed Mecklenberg, owned by Rosebrian Farm and trained by Tara Elmore. Arcadia Stable’s Delta Park placed third and Margaret Littleton’s Atrium placed fourth.
Before the running of the seventh race, the traditional Parade of Hounds brought out the Longreen Foxhounds of the Memphis area, led by Huntsman and MFH Susan Walker.
In the seventh race, the Calvin Houghland Iroquois, owner Irvin S. Naylor and jockey Zavier Aizpuru were hoping Tax Ruling (#6) would have a record breaking third win of the race, having won it in 2010 and 2011. He led the first part of the race, but #3 Arcadius challenged that record and claimed the victory. Nationbuilder, #2, owned by Mrs. Calvin Houghland and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, with Danielle Hodsdon aboard placed third.
Arcadius’ collapse and subsequent death after the race left a pall of sadness over the Winner’s Circle. There was no ceremony, no presentation of awards – only the replay on the JumboTron of the horse’s last race and most prestigious win.
Necropsy results: Veterinarian Dr. Monty McInturff, owner of TN Equine Hospital, said the necropsy revealed that Arcadius “showed weakness in the pulmonary artery. There was microscopic, histopathological evidence of thinning of the muscle in the lining of the pulmonary artery, which predisposed the horse to injury. The result was an aneurism, a rupture in the pulmonary artery, which could have happened at any time. There would have been no way to diagnose such a potential problem. We looked at him pre-race and he was healthy, happy, sound. He ran a great race. The rupture occurred after the race.”
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