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An Inside Look at the Iroquois Steeplechase

An Annual Equestrian Event at Percy Warner Park

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An Inside Look at the Iroquois Steeplechase
Copyright Jan Duke
History of the Iroquois Steeplechase
Iroquois Steeplechase Photo Galleries

Since 1941, Warner Parks has hosted the Iroquois - named for Pierre Lorillard's Iroquois, who was the first American bread horse to win the English Derby before being brought back to Belle Meade Mansion - for all of it's sixty-six races. (A race was not held in 1945, due to World War II.)

The association with Vanderbilt Children's Hospital came in 1981 at the suggestion of future chairman, Henry Hooker (succeeding Calvin Houghland in 1991) and George Sloan to Chairman Calvin Houghland. Mr. Hooker's wife, Alice, was the president of the Children's Hospital that year and was thrilled with the idea. Steeplechasing events award approximately four million dollars per year with an equal amount paid to charities such as Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. Mr. and Mrs. Hooker have participated in Iroquois through the years as horse owners and volunteer management. Mr. Hooker served on the race committee for years before taking on the role of chairman. He also served on the board of directors of the National Steeplechase Association (NSA). From 2003 through 2006, Mr. Hooker served as chairman of the NSA board.

Much preparation leads up to race day, not only in one hundred twenty training days (minimum) for the horses, but also for the ladies of the Nashville area to put together their ensembles. A lot of work goes into finding just the right hat / dress combination to prove themselves as the most stylish and, in some cases, the most over the top! Some ladies even opt to carry multiple pairs of shoes for any situation they may encounter throughout the day. Some may take it too seriously, but most treat it, as it should be, and just have fun with it.

The big anticipation for 2007's race was to see if Iroquois could have its first three-peat winner in Sur La Tete. Sur La Tete rode to wins with jockey Christopher Read in 2005 and 2006 and hoped to have a consecutive third. The only horse to win three times at Iroquois was Uncle Edwin - alas non-consecutive wins - in 1982, 1985, and 1986. Uncle Edwin was owned by Mrs. Michael Sanger and ridden by former leading U.S. Amateur Rider D.M. Smithwick, Jr. Unfortunately, it was not to be for Sur La Tete, nor for the other favorite, McDynamo (owner: Michael J. Moran; jockey: Jody Petty). Good Night Shirt (owner: Harold Via, Jr.; jockey: William Dowling) surprised everyone by coming away with the win taking home $90,000 (sixty percent of the $150,000 purse). Sur La Tete had to settle for second place, while McDynamo took fourth.

The year 2007 also included the induction of four members to the Hall of Fame. Marcellus "Pops" Frost, who envisioned a steeplechase course and had Mason Houghland call on William du Pont to assist in the design; Mason Houghland, who founded the Hillsboro Hounds - a private equestrian organization of foxhunters. Mr. Houghland was chairman when the first Iroquois Steeplechase was held; John Sloan, Sr. was a protégé of Mr. Houghland even managing the Hillsboro Hounds and the Iroquois Steeplechase for two decades following Mr. Houghland's death; Guilford Dudley had various horses in the Iroquois - winning in 1962 with a horse, Navy Fighter, which he both owned and trained. Mr. Dudley won the flat race nine times. These first four inductees are honored for their roles as founders of the Iroquois. The Hall of Fame will be housed at the Belle Meade Plantation.

Article Written & Submitted by Michelle Durham

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