The New York Racing Association announced today the renaming of the New York Turf Writers Cup steeplechase stakes in honor of Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard.
The Grade 1, $150,000 Jonathan Sheppard for 4-year-olds and up going 2 3/8 miles is slated for Thursday, Aug. 19 during the summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course. What was known previously as the New York Turf Writers Cup is one of two Grade 1 steeplechase races on the Saratoga docket, along with the $150,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial set for Thursday, July 22.
“It seems fitting that one of the premier steeplechase stakes in the country is going to be named in honor of Jonathan Sheppard,” said Bill Gallo, director of racing for the National Steeplechase Association. “He has been the dominant force in American steeplechase racing for decades and has always represented the sport in a positive way, particularly at Saratoga, where his success has gained national attention. We thank NYRA and the New York Turf Writers for honoring Jonathan in this fashion.”
The 80-year-old Sheppard announced his retirement in early January. He capped a 56-year racing career in which he was the leading NSA trainer 26 times, campaigning the winners of 15 Eclipse award winners over hurdles and flat ground.
Sheppard made a mark on New York racing, with a long winning streak at Saratoga, and also was the leading overall trainer at Saratoga in 1984 and 1985. Fittingly, Sheppard earned a reputation for dominating the New York Turf Writers Cup, figuratively stamping his name on a race he won 15 times (the first in 1979 with Leaping Frog and the last in 2019 with Winston C) before the announcement that his name will literally be synonymous with the contest.
“Jonathan Sheppard's long and storied career, in particular his accomplishments at Saratoga Race Course, will be remembered for years to come,” said NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke. “His decades of commitment and success within the sport make this a well-deserved honor. It’s only fitting that he is celebrated with a stakes race at the Spa in light of his unprecedented streak of 47 years with at least one winner at Saratoga.”
The Ashwell, England native is the winningest trainer in U.S. jump racing-history with 1,150 wins and $24.9 million in purse earnings. Equibase credits Sheppard with a career ledger of 3,426 wins with 3,099 runner-up efforts and 2,975 thirds in 20,997 starts with earnings of more than $88 million.
Sheppard trained the winners of 15 Eclipse Awards – steeplechasers Athenian Idol (1973), Cafe Prince (1977-78), Martie’s Anger (1979), Flatterer (1983-86), Jimmy Lorenzo (1988), Highland Bud (1989), Mixed Up (2009), Divine Fortune (2013) and Winston C (2019) plus female turf champion Forever Together (2008) and female sprint champion Informed Decision (2009).
In addition to his 15 wins in the Turf Writers, Sheppard’s New York success included 13 victories in the A.P. Smithwick Memorial plus major flat scores in the Grade 1 Diana with Forever Together in 2008 and 2009, the Grade 1 Man o’ War and Sword Dancer with With Anticipation in 2001 and 2002, and the Grade 1 Flower Bowl with First Approach in 1983 and Trevita in 1982.
A 1990 Hall of Fame inductee, Sheppard continued building on a historic legacy for the next three decades. In his final year of training in 2020, Sheppard finished atop the NSA trainer standings, besting runner-up Jack Fisher, who had been the leading trainer eight years running.
First run in 1938, the Turf Writers was created to honor one of the oldest organizations for journalists in the United States and had been run at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga.