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Neji (NYRA).jpg

Neji (NYRA)
Induction Year: 
Marion du Pont Scott
Rigan McKinney; Lillian Bostwick Phipps
Rigan McKinney; G. H. Bostwick; D. M. Smithwick; Daniel L. Moore
Hunters Moon IV
Career Years: 

Tab Wrapper


America’s most prolific steeplechaser in the 1950s, Neji was bred at Marion du Pont Scott’s Montpelier in Virginia. A chestnut gelding, Neji was sold as a weanling to Rigan McKinney, who resold him as a maiden 3-year-old to Mrs. Ogden Phipps.


A son of Hunters Moon IV out of the Annapolis mare Accra, Neji won two editions each of the American Grand National, Temple Gwathmey Handicap and Brook Handicap.


Trained primarily by Pete Bostwick and then Mike Smithwick, Neji was named for a Rudyard Kipling character. Neji’s sire, Hunters Moon IV, also sired Mountain Dew, three-time winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup, as well as Peal, the 1961 steeplechase Horse of the Year. Neji’s dam, Accra, produced Mongo, America’s champion grass horse in 1963.


When McKinney dispersed his racing stock in 1953, Mrs. Phipps sent Neji to her brother, Pete Bostwick, for training. Neji first raced over hurdles as a 4-year-old in 1954 and then graduated to steeplechasing that fall. He won the Brook Steeplechase Handicap and finished second in the Grand National that year. Neji started 18 times in 1954 with a record of 5-5-3 and earnings of $41,005.


In 1955, Neji won the first of his three steeplechase Horse of the Year honors. He again won the Brook and carried 167 pounds to victory in the Grand National, 17 more than the place horse. He added a victory in the Temple Gwathmey, again under 167 pounds.


After winning two stakes races in 1956, Neji was shelved with a fracture in a hind leg. While recuperating, Neji was given a new trainer. At the time, Mrs. Phipps had enlarged her racing stable and Bostwick did not want to commit himself full-time. D. M. “Mikey” Smithwick, 28 years old at the time, became the head trainer for Mrs. Phipps and Paddy Smithwick took over as Neji’s jockey.


Neji returned to the races in 1957 to win four stakes — including repeats in the Grand National under 168 pounds and the Temple Gwathmey with a record impost of 173 — and was again named Horse of the Year.


In 1958, Neji won the Grand National under 173 pounds, prompting John E. Cooper to write in the Chronicle of the Horse: “Neji won his second Grand National, and the way he did it drew applause from the crowd even before he crossed the finish line. He jumped the last fence a head in front, then went on to win by ½ lengths, smashing the weight carrying record and clipping 9½ seconds off his record time in the 1957 race.”


Cooper wrote with great emotion when Neji carried a record 176 pounds in the Temple Gwathmey: “A swelling ovation rose from the stands when Neji jumped the final fence and forged into the lead coming up the stretch. In a few tense seconds, though, silence fell on the crowd as Albert Foot, arms flailing, drove up on the inside with Mrs. Scott’s Benguala, who carried twenty-six less pounds less. Neji’s half-length lead became a head, then a nose, and a stride before the wire, Benguala’s nose showed in front. At the finish line, a short head measured his victory in one of the most dramatic of all jumping races. Even those with a direct interest in the outcome — the owners, trainers and riders of the other horses in the eight-horse field, as well as the general public — wanted Neji to win.”


Neji was named Horse of the Year for the third time in 1958 and in the process eclipsed Elkridge’s record for earnings by a steeplechaser. That fall, Neji was sent to Ireland to train with Dan Moore, a cousin of the Smithwicks, to prepare for the 1959 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Neji raced three times abroad with his best finish being a third in England. He didn’t make it to the Gold Cup, as he suffered a tendon injury in his final prep race.


Back in America, Neji raced three more times as a 10-year-old in 1960 before being retired with a career record of 17-11-9 from 49 starts and earnings of $274,027, a record for a steeplechaser. His earnings record stood for 22 years. Neji lived much of his retirement at Mrs. D. M. Smithwick’s Sunny Bank Farm in Middleburg, Va., where he died in 1982 at the age of 32.