NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Divine Fortune, the 2013 steeplechase horse of the year, started a successful defense of his title Saturday, winning the 73rd running of the Iroquois Steeplechase at Percy Warner Park.
The 11-year-old gelding went to the front at the drop of the starter's flag and stayed there to win the $150,000 stakes race.
Jockey Willie McCarthy's winning ride aboard Divine Fortune in the 3-mile race over 18 national hurdles was his third of the afternoon.
Racing for William L. Pape of Unionville, Pennsylvania, Divine Fortune faced eight rivals in the first of seven National Steeplechase Association Grade 1 races that will determine the Eclipse Award for the horse of the year.
McCarthy, who was substituting for the injured Darren Nagle, pushed the winner to the lead at the start and spent the balance of the contest repelling challenges.
The biggest of those came from Gustavian, the winner of last fall's Lonesome Glory Stakes at Belmont Park.
Former steeplechase riding champion Paddy Young sent Gustavian after the winner down the back stretch and around the far turn the second time and came up 3 1/2 lengths short to finish second. They were just a nose in front of the Irish import For Non Stop with Ross Geraghty in the saddle.
With crowd of 25,000 roaring, Divine Fortune covered the about three mile distance on a firm turf course in 5 minutes, 39 2-5 seconds carrying scale weight of 158 pounds.
After the trophy presentation, Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard said Divine Fortune would make his next hurdle start in the $100,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Stakes at Saratoga in July ''unless he needs a couple of flat runs at Penn National or somewhere else between now and then.''
After the trophy presentation, McCarthy said a third-place finish in a prep race in North Carolina set up Divine Fortune for his Iroquois win. ''He was able to respond every time they came at him,'' the Irish-born rider said.
Looking to the future, McCarthy said, ''The distance of this race tells us he can handle any of the other Grade 1's to come.''
Earlier on in the card run for the benefit Monroe Caroll, Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University, McCarthy won an allowance race with Tempt Me Alex and then piloted Mystery Jack to win a maiden contest.