MONKTON, Md.--Steeplechase Eclipse Award winner Scorpiancer came perilously close to never making it to this country to race.
He was bred in Ireland and first won a maiden hurdle race in England as a 6-year-old in 2015.
He was a fairly expensive purchase by Bruton Street-US to race in England, but he ran poorly there and his owners almost gave him away.
"I've had Scorpiancer for two years," said his trainer Jack Fisher of Monkton, Md. "He came from England. Bruton Street bought him to run over there, He ran there four times, but he's a mental case. He just freaks out."
"He ran no good over there, but they'd spent a good bit of money on him, so they thought they'd try something else," said Fisher.
Bruton Street-US is a partnership between Mike Hankin, Charlie Noell and Charlie Fenwick, all of whom work for the investment banking firm of Alexander Brown & Sons, of which Hankin is CEO.
"Alexander Brown has an office in London on Bruton Street," said Hankin. "We three were in London in 2013, and we were having breakfast together. We thought we'd join our resources and thus compete more effectively."
THEY NAMED their new partnership Bruton Street.
"We bought three horses that year in England, actually, four including Scorpiancer," said Hankin. "City Press and Drift Society came here. Drift Society was second in the Manor and second in the Maryland Hunt Cup last year."
Bruton Street has since bought more horses, some of which stayed in England.
"We're totally out of control," said Hankin. "But we've had a lot of fun, and we've been lucky."
"Scorpiancer struggled," said Hankin of the 9-year-old's races in England. "He hated the soft ground, and he got behind time-wise, so he was racing against more experienced horses."
"In 2015, some suggested that we give him away," said Hankin. "We decided instead, at the risk of throwing good money after bad, to bring him over here and give him to Jack."
"He liked the ground over here, and he liked being turned out more," said Hankin.
"In England, there are yards with 200 or so horses," said Fisher. "We put him in smaller sets and let him go in front."
The new regime worked like a charm.
Scoriancer was fourth in his first start in this country, an allowance race on the flat at Suffolk DownS on Sept. 5, 2015, and then won a hurdle handicap at Shawan Downs on Sept. 26 followed by another win at Far Hills in the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle Stakes.
IN 2010, Fenwick, Hankin and Noelle had also owned a horse together named Make Your Own, and Hankin's son Connor had his first victory as a jockey on that horse.
"Noelle and Fenwick have always been very supportive of Connor," said Hankin.
Connor rode Scorpiancer in his first eight races until he went into the Marines in the fall of 2016, when Sean McDermott took over the ride.
Connor had two seconds, a third and a fourth in G1 hurdle stakes during his time on Scorpiancer.
McDermott won his first race on Scorpiancer, the G1 Lonesome Glory at Belmont on Sept. 22, 2016, and then was second in the Grand National Hurdle Stakes at Far Hills on Oct. 15.
This year, Scorpiancer won his only two starts of the season, the $200,000 G1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois by 16 lengths after his victory in the G3 Temple Gwathmey.
Five different horses won the year's five G1 races, but Scorpiancer was the only one of them that had a second graded stakes win.
The Eclipse Awards were presented at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 25, and accepting their Eclipse trophy were the three friends who make up Bruton Street-US: Hankin, Fenwick, and Noell.
With them were Fisher and Scorpiancer's two jockeys, Hankin and McDermott, who rode him for the two 2017 wins.
"Connor was coincidentally on leave from the Marines," said Hankin. "He has three more years."
"We were sitting next to Gill Johnson, and she thought we'd win, and we thought she'd win," said Hankin. "If Mr. Hot Stuff had won, it would have been a good story. He deserved to win. All the Way Jose had an incredible year. We put up three very good horses for the Eclipse Award this year."
Hankin spoke for the partnership in accepting the Award.
"He's a really good horse. And we've been really, really lucky to be part of a fun team watching this horse come over from England and run so well here," Hankin said.
"It's a privilege to be here with all of you," said Hankin. "Steeplechase racing has long been thought of as a great afterlife for flat horses. It's gotten pretty exciting. The last year, the biggest purse of the year was $400,000 and it's going up to $500,000 in two years. We're big on our sport, and we appreciate being recognized as part of thoroughbred flat racing tonight."
Scopiancer, who suffered a bowed tendon and did not race after his Iroquois victory in Nashville on May 13, topped the NSA's Theoretical Handicap at 158 pounds.
Other finalists for the Eclipse were Gillian Johnston's Mr. Hot Stuff, winner of the $400,000 G1 Grand National at Far Hills, N.J., on Oct. 21, and Buttonwood Farm's All the Way Jose, who won Belmont Park's $150,000 G1 Lonesome Glory Handicap on Sept. 21. They were rated at 148 pounds in the Theoretical Handicap.
Scorpiancer led the Eclipse balloting with 92 votes, followed by All the Way Jose at 70 and Mr. Hot Stuff at 35.
Also receiving votes were Robert Kinsley's Modem (7), Flying Elvis Stable's Diplomat (4), and Rosbrian Farm's Swansea Mile (3).
Fisher also trained Mr. Hot Stuff, and All the Way Jose was trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard.
The Eclipse Awards are decided by voting of National Thoroughbred Racing Association racing secretaries, editors and writers of Daily Racing Form, and members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association.
Fisher said that they didn't operate on the bowed tendon, and Scorpiancer has been recovering at his farm.
"He won't run back until this fall," said Fisher.