Trainer Jonathan Sheppard sensed his horse He's A Conniver was in a bad position on the first lap of Sunday's second steeplechase race at the Saratoga Race Course open house.
He's a little too close to the lead, Sheppard said as He's A Conniver sat in second place. "The pace is very slow, though."
Sheppard's concern didn't fade after He's A Conniver moved into a comfortable lead as the seven-horse field completed the first of two-and-a-quarter laps on the inner turf course. Sure enough, a group of four horses rallied from behind on the backstretch and passed He's A Conniver. More Fascination managed to pull out the victory by a nose over Most Bossest, while He's A Conniver wound up fifth.
Sheppard's disappointment over his horse's performance was tempered by his excitement over the way the race ended. "That was a great finish," he said.
The 66-year-old Sheppard has seen his share of great finishes in his Hall of Fame horse training career. And while not all of them worked in his favor, he accepts every outcome.
"You have to be able to have the type of personality to deal with disappointments especially with steeplechase racing," he said.
Sheppard has not had a lot of disappointments in his 43-year career. As a steeplechase trainer, his horses have helped him top the earnings list 23 times, including 18 consecutive years between 1973 and 1990. Six of his horses have been National/Eclipse steeplechase champions, including four-time champion Flatterer (1983-86). He's won 12 New York Turf Riders Cup titles at Saratoga and three Breeders' Cup steeplechase titles. The Saratoga meet opens Wednesday.
"I guess you could say there's a lot of different ingredients that make up the whole," said Sheppard. "(Finding good horses) is certainly one of them, but you also need a good team around you. You need good jockeys, and you need an owner who has very deep pockets."