SUR LA TETE (Sky Classic), the fourth-leading earner in the history of the National
Steeplechase Association, has been retired by trainer Neil Morris.
Owned by Kinross Farm, Sur La Tete retires with $664,050 in
steeplechase earnings and nine victories, including six Grade 1 scores. The 10-year-old
gelding struggled to put together back-to-back starts over the past
few seasons due to soundness issues, and joins the foxhunter band at Zohar and
Lisa Ben-Dov’s Kinross Farm near Middleburg, Virginia.
“For me as a trainer it was kind of simple,” Morris said of the retirement
choice. “Making the phone call to sell the decision to the owner was the hard
part, but he took it well, too. I’m happy that the horse is sound. I was relieved
afterward, it’s what I wanted for the horse.”
Sur La Tete raced just once in 2007, finishing second to eventual champion
Good Night Shirt (Concern) in the Iroquois (NSA-G1), and was on the comeback trail headed to the
2008 race. In a sign of his readiness, the Kentucky-bred won an unofficial
hurdle race at the Old Dominion point-to-point April 5, but an old injury began
to resurface. For several years, Sur La Tete has dealt with a troublesome ligament below an ankle — hence the abbreviated campaigns of 2007 (one start),
2006 (two) and 2005 (three).
“He won nicely at Old Dominion, but I need to have him fitter than that to
win Grade 1 stakes,” Morris said. “I don’t think I want to get him fitter. He’s
showed some intolerances in the past. What do we need, another picture on the
wall? And at what cost? I’d rather have a sound horse to retire.”
Bred by Herman Greenberg’s Rutledge Farm, Sur La Tete washed out of flat
racing due some bad behavior and was languishing in a field as an unraced
three-year-old when Kinross purchased him for $10,000 in 2001. He made the first
start of his life at Great Meadow in October 2002, easily winning a maiden
hurdle only to be disqualified when rookie jockey Chris Read forgot to weigh in
afterward. In their next start, Read and Sur La Tete parted company at the
The 2002 season a distant memory, Sur La Tete finished worse than third just
once in his remaining steeplechase career. He broke his maiden at Great Meadow in May
2003, won on the flat at Laurel that summer, and dominated the Foxbrook Novice
S. (NSA-G1) at Far Hills in October.
In 2004, Sur La Tete won two-thirds of the Steeplechase Triple Crown, a
series for novice runners, scoring at Atlanta and Belmont Park. By that fall, he
moved into open company and hammered stakes veteran Tres Touche at Monmouth
Park. He closed that season with thirds behind McDynamo and Hirapour (Ire) in the
Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase (NSA-G1) and Hirapour and Preemptive Strike in the Colonial Cup
(NSA-G1), and won
the Lonesome Glory Award as the leading earner with $207,060.
Sur La Tete finished first or second in his next six starts — the final runs
of his career — spaced over three seasons. In 2005, he won the Carolina Cup
(NSA-G3) (then an open stakes) in a thriller over Hirapour, then finished second to that
rival in the Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings (NSA-G1) at Keeneland. In the Iroquois three weeks later, Sur La
Tete defeated McDynamo. The nagging
ligament cost Sur La Tete the fall season, and a chance at an Eclipse Award.
He returned in 2006 with his best two races — thrashing the Royal Chase
field by 10 lengths and returning to take a second consecutive Iroquois in
another romp. Morris called those his favorite moments.
“When he accelerated to the last fence at Keeneland, that was beautiful to
watch,” the trainer reminisced. “All we did after that was hack him around until
Iroquois and he came back there and did it again. He was that good. He really
impressed me with those two races.”
Soundness concerns again cost Sur La Tete a fall campaign, and an Eclipse
Award push, but he returned in 2007 for a try at the Iroquois off the lengthy
layoff. He tested Good Night Shirt, but flattened out in the stretch to finish 5
1/4 lengths behind the champion. Bidding for a return to action in the 2008
Iroquois, Morris foxhunted Sur La Tete and trained him up to the Old Dominion
start. The horse won that open hurdle race easily, but the ligament injury
emerged once again, and Morris made the call.
“He’s in a 40-acre field with 11 other foxhunters — he’s number 12,” said
Morris. “His abdomen dropped as soon as we put him him out there. He looks fat,
dirty and happy.”