Nationbuilder, a 12-year-old gelding owned and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, died after landing from the second-to-last hurdle in the $40,000 timber steeplechase held on the steeplethon course at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va., on Oct. 22.
The third race on the undercard for the International Gold Cup, the steeplethon is a unique race offered at only a few meets. It is comprised of a variety of timber, hurdle and water jumps over a 3-mile course.
Purchased as a yearling by George Strawbridge, Nationbuilder (Came Home — Seattle Bay, Opening Verse) made his way to Sheppard’s barn that same year.
“He was very much of a barn favorite,” said Sheppard. “We broke and raised him. When he got a bit older and reached a bit of a plateau on the flat, we thought he’d make a good jumper and sold him to Calvin Houghland of Nashville, who owned him for several years.”
Following Houghland’s death in 2009, Bill Pape bought Nationbuilder, and the horse once again returned to Sheppard’s Ashwell Training Stables in West Grove, Pa., where he continued his jump career.
The horse tried retirement as a foxhunter but proved too keen and once again returned to racing, this time owned in partnership by Pape and Sheppard, with Sheppard eventually buying out Pape this fall.
“He was part of the family here,” said Sheppard of the bay gelding. “He was a very classy, really good-looking horse. He always acted with a lot of poise and was a very kind horse to work around.”
It was over the second-to-last jump, a simple brush hurdle, where Nationbuilder stumbled after landing, unseating jockey Paddy Young.
“I couldn’t see it from where I was watching, but piecing together what the jockey, who is a very experienced and a top rider, told me, he stumbled and then got back up for a stride or two and then went down and stayed down,” said Sheppard.
The cause of death is still to be determined by a necropsy as there were aspects atypical to an aortic rupture but, per Sheppard, “The veterinarian on the scene shared the horse probably died before he hit the ground. That was it.”
Sheppard planned on racing Nationbuilder a final time this season at Callaway Gardens (Ga.).
“We thought it would be an easy spot for him—he broke his maiden down there some years ago—and that it would be a nice way to wrap up things up, and then we’d keep him as a hunter horse. The horse was very healthy and in great condition. It was just a freak thing,” Sheppard said.