After the Racetrack: Scorpiancer

April 8th, 2022

So far, "After the Racetrack" has profiled Whitmore and Zivo, two graded stakes winners who have said goodbye to the racetrack and hello to their next careers. Racing in the United States does not just happen on the flat, though; Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course both are home to steeplechases as well. Over distances of two miles and more, horses like recent champion The Mean Queen compete for the same graded stakes status but with the added challenge of jumping while running.

Like The Mean Queen, Scorpiancer, 2017’s champion steeplechaser, has won multiple graded stakes over the jumps at Belmont, Far Hills, and Middleburg, but now this newly retired jump specialist has moved on to a new career as a show jumper. With his new owner and trainer, Rachael Lively, Scorpiancer demonstrates the versatility of the Thoroughbred at any age.

Champion Chaser

Bred in Ireland by Mary O’Connor, Scorpiancer boasts a pedigree with classic wins on both sides: his sire Scorpion and his damsire Silver Patriarch each won the St. Leger S. and the Coronation Cup in England. At three, the gelding caught the eye of Mike Hankin, Charlie Noell, and Charlie Fenwick, Jr., the men behind Bruton Street Stable, who purchased Scorpiancer with the goal of racing him over the fences in England.

However, the gelding did not race as well as the Bruton Street group expected, winning only one of his six starts in England and Wales. Feeling this son of Scorpion was capable of better, they sent him to the United States and the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Jack Fisher. Under an experienced horseman like Fisher, Scorpiancer became a star, winning the Grade 1 Iroquois Steeplechase twice, the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory, and the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey. An injury in 2019 sent the champion to the sidelines for a few months to give him time to recover.

Fisher attempted to bring Scorpiancer back for another season, but it became clear that the gelding was ready to move on from his time on the racetrack. His owners decided to find their champion steeplechaser a second career, first as a foxhunter. When that did not work out, they floated the idea of training the gelding for show jumping. That mission fell to Rachael Lively, a lifelong horsewoman and trainer. She offered to take on the task of training Scorpiancer for the show ring, a role he has taken to with aplomb.

Precocious Jumper

From her earliest years, Lively has worked with horses. The daughter of trainer Jesse Walsh, she started out showing horses as a kid; worked as a trainer on the Mid-Atlantic flat racing circuit alongside her husband, Troy; and then went back to riding and training show horses as her family grew. Troy works at Jack Fisher’s Kingfisher Farm and Rachael occasionally rides for the stable, which gave her the chance to get to know Scorpiancer. “I always liked him,” Lively said about Scorpiancer. “He’s super athletic and in really good shape. Just a cool horse.” Her fondness for the gelding plus her experience with off-track Thoroughbreds made her the ideal person to work with the champion.

“I offered to try him over the jumps to see how he would do,” said Lively. “Within three rides, it was clear he did like it,” prompting the Bruton Street group to send him to her full time. Under her guidance over the last four months, the former steeplechase champion has progressed from a horse that had never tried jumping in a show ring to clearing one-meter hurdles. “Show jumps are different than running over jumps,” she said. “These are more technical than when a horse is running, where you’re jumping to survive.”  

Despite the challenges, Scorpiancer had adapted to his new job, with a bright future in the ring ahead of him. “I knew he would make a great jumper as long as he wanted to do it,” Lively shared. “He’s interested in everything you show him. He even carries himself differently now.”

The new barn and second career have mellowed out the former steeplechaser, who has become somewhat of a treat machine whenever people come around the barn. “He expects treats whenever he sees people in the barn,” Lively laughs. “I almost wonder if he might be in this for the peppermints.”

Best of all, the three men of Bruton Street cover all of the gelding’s expenses as he trains with Lively, their way of thanking their champion for all he gave them on the racetrack. Scorpiancer is thriving in this new career, another example of just what this breed is capable of, on and off the racetrack. “These horses can take on a new job, and they give their absolute best when they do,” Lively observes. “All they need is a chance to find the right one.”