By Tod Marks
|Patience and perseverance paid off as Bruton Street-US’ gallant gray is named steeplechasing’s best in its most unusual season.|
|A standout since coming from Europe, Bruton Street-US’ Moscato always seemed to be on the threshold of a breakout campaign. In 2017, he competed gallantly in the shadow of his Eclipse-Award-winning stablemate, Scorpiancer, winning the Michael G. Walsh at Saratoga and William Entenmann novice stakes at Belmont Park. Sidelined by injury in 2018, he bounced back the following year to score in the G3 Temple Gwathmey Stakes followed by a third in the G1 Iroquois. In 2020, Moscato put it all together, capturing two of the season’s three top hurdle races, and on Thursday night was crowned the champion steeplechaser at the 50th Annual Eclipse Awards ceremonies held for the first time as a virtual event streamed live. The Eclipse Awards are voted on jointly by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters.|
In accepting the award, Michael Hankin, speaking for fellow owners Charlie Fenwick and Charlie Noell, said that the 10-year-old occupies a special place among Bruton Street horses, having won or placed in six races over their four seasons together.
The flashy gray British-bred son of Hernando, trained by Jack Fisher, also won the most money, $100,000 last season, a distinction that earned him the National Steeplechase Association’s Lonesome Glory Award.
Moscato began 2020 as he did the year earlier, with a victory in the Gwathmey at the Middleburg (Virginia) Spring Races– the only graded hurdle stake run outside of Saratoga this season — romping by 11 1/2 lengths over a stellar field that included 2018 Eclipse-award winner Zanjabeel, Iranistan, Surprising Soul, and stablemate Rashaan, who along with a third Bruton Street-US stablemate, the dazzling up-and-coming star Snap Decision, were the three finalists for this year’s Eclipse Award. The last time one stable boasted all three finalists was 2011, when Irv Naylor had Black Jack Blues, Decoy Daddy, and Tax Ruling.
Next came a determined late rally to overtake 2018 Eclipse-award finalist Optimus Prime in the G1 AP Smithwick at Saratoga. Rashaan, trained by Leslie Young, turned the tables on Moscato in the longer G1 New York Turf Writers Cup at the Spa in August, while getting a 16-pound break in the weights. Moscato finished third that day, beaten 5 ¾ lengths.
Trainer Fisher, who all along believed that Moscato was the best horse and deserved year-end honors, was joined in that opinion by regular rider Michael Mitchell. “Moscato is completely justified in winning this award tonight,” Michell said. “His progression through the divisions of our sport and his outstanding performances at the highest level in 2020 were a joy to experience and a testament to his abilities.”
Fisher, who characterized Moscato as “a cool horse who will allow anyone to ride him,” always had tremendous faith in the horse’s ability to compete at the highest levels of competition, recalling how he — not Scorpiancer — should have won the 2019 G1 Iroquois at Nashville but not for a troubled trip. Bruton Street had hoped to campaign Scorpiancer in 2020, but injuries stalled his comeback, and he’s now officially retired.
In an interview with the Bruton Street team after the awards, owners Fewick and Hankin thanked Fisher and Young, and jockeys Mitchell, Sean McDermott, Snap Decision’s pilot, and Tom Garner, who rides Rashaan. They also gave a shout out to retired British jump jockey and racing commentator Richard Pittman. Pittman, best known for finishing second on Crisp to the legendary Red Rum in the 1973 English Grand National, picked out Moscato — off the flat — as a good steeplechase prospect for Bruton Street. Fenwick described the 2020 season as a “real thrill and a great ride.”
Hankin said one particular goal for Bruton Street going forward is to produce more American-bred steeplechase horses. Toward that end, Pravalaguna, a French-bred mare, is going to be bred to Hard Spun this spring.
Bruton Street has tried to keep its three stars apart, but this year they are bound to lock horns. While Moscato is sidelined by a tendon injury, Fisher said the horse should be ready by the fall to meet top competition. While plans for Rashaan remain up in the air, Fisher, who also conditions Snap Decision, said the latter’s campaign is expected to begin in the Temple Gwathmey, followed by the Iroquois, and a summer at Saratoga.
The pandemic made 2020 a challenging year for everyone, including the National Steeplechase Association. Purses were cut by 70 percent, the jockey colony was diminished by injury, sickness and immigration limitations; and fans were prohibited at most race meets. But out of the chaos and adversity came an opportunity for those willing to persevere. Perhaps the biggest success of all was that the show was able to go on, albeit abbreviated — 80 races in all, worth more than $1.6 million in purses — during an unpredictable spring, summer, and fall.