Last year’s Lonesome Glory proved a validation of sorts for Good Night Shirt. The Jack Fisher-trainee entered on the heels of an upset win in the Grade 1 Iroquois looking to prove his Nashville win was no fluke. A year later, the reigning champion enters at the top of the sport, climbing up the all-time leader board and aiming for his fourth consecutive Grade 1 triumph and sixth overall.
Though Fisher chose to start Good Night Shirt’s 7-year-old campaign this April in the Grade 1 Georgia Cup -- a race he won by a resurgent length and a half -- the trainer has followed a familiar path in 2008. Good Night Shirt again took home the Iroquois, this time in a polished and professional effort under regular rider Willie Dowling, and again headed to the sidelines for some rest and relaxation shortly thereafter.
Fisher recently installed a Polytrack training surface at his Butler, Md., farm and Good Night Shirt has trained there in preparation for his first start in more than four months. Fisher sees little change from the horse he brought to Belmont last year.
“Nothing’s different,” Fisher said. “He’s the same horse, or at least I think he’s the same horse as last year. Everything’s gone pretty much the same. Last year, the ground was hard so I was going to Fair Hill (Training Center) a lot. This year, I have the track and the ground has been better lately, but he likes anything. I could have put in a glass track and he would have been happy.”
Good Night Shirt shoulders Dowling and topweight of 158 pounds -- spotting four to 20 pounds to his seven rivals. While weight and fitness are always concerns, the three-time champion trainer sees little reason to deviate from a proven schedule.
“It’s easy to train a horse like him,” Fisher said. “You don't have to look for races, they’re right there for you every year. “He’ll be giving away a lot of weight, but hopefully, he’ll run the same kind of race as last year. Then, hopefully, he’ll go to Far Hills and the Colonial Cup just like last year.”
Peggy Steinman’s Dark Equation figures as the major threat to the champion. The 7-year-old son of Polish Numbers vaulted into the championship picture with a strong summer at Saratoga Race Course and enters the fall season as a legitimate threat to Good Night Shirt’s throne.
Dark Equation made the most of his time in upstate New York, winning a training-flat race there prior to running second in the Grade 2 A.P. Smithwick on August 7. He took his game to a new level three weeks later with a win in the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup, avenging his loss to barnmate and Smithwick winner High Action and fending off upstart novice Be Certain to score by a half-length.
Dark Equation exited the Turf Writers in good order and, with a high cruising speed and the ability to carry it a distance of ground, should be close to Good Night Shirt early. Trainer Doug Fout is eager to see how his charge stacks up against the best horse in the game.
“If there was ever a good time to take him on it’s Sunday,” Fout said. “We’re going to push Good Night Shirt; we’re not going to give it to him early. Nothing’s going to be easy out there and he’s going to have to earn it.
“Dark Equation is sharp and fit and happy -- what more can you ask for? I trained him light after the Turf Writers Cup and just tried to keep him happy. There’s no sense waiting; he’s dead fit, and you can’t make any money staying in the barn.”
Dark Equation has made 10 of his 13 hurdle starts over flat tracks, and his four career jump wins have come there as well. Though Fout can’t put his finger on why Dark Equation favors race tracks, he certainly feels it’s a factor that will work in his favor Sunday.
“We have an advantage over everyone on the flat track,” Fout said. “Honestly, I don’t know why he likes it better than the hunt meets -- maybe he trusts it more for his jumping, and so he tries a little harder. He doesn’t dig in as much at the hunt meets. This race also gives us good spacing because I’ll put him away after this and point to the Colonial Cup (Nov. 16). We’ve got to strike while we’re doing good and we couldn’t be doing any better than right now.”
Matt McCarron, who's been aboard Dark Equation for all but one of his hurdle starts, has the call at 154 pounds.
Sally Radcliffe's Best Attack could be coming into his own after bypassing the summer stakes action at Saratoga. Trained by Bruce Miller, the 7-year-old opened his season third in the Royal Chase at Keeneland then ran a big second behind Good Night Shirt in the Iroquois, coming home well clear of the competition.
Best Attack finished seventh in last year's Lonesome Glory but was compromised by hard ground at home that interrupted his training throughout the summer.
The Lonesome Glory is the first race on Belmont's Sunday card. Post time is 1:00 p.m. Eastern.
The field for Sunday’s Grade 1 Lonesome Glory:
PP. HORSE TRAINER JOCKEY WGT.
1. Duke of Earl Jack Fisher Xavier Aizpuru 138
2. Red Letter Day Janet Elliot Robbie Walsh 138
3. Dalucci Charlie Swan David Casey 138
4. Best Attack Bruce Miller Paddy Young 146
5.a Sermon of Love Jonathan Sheppard Danielle Hodsdon 138
6. Good Night Shirt Jack Fisher Willie Dowling 158
7. Dark Equation Paul Fout Matt McCarron 154
8.a Mon Ville Bruce Miller Jody Petty 146
a-Sermon of Love and Mon Ville are coupled.