Defending steeplechase Eclipse Award winner Good Night Shirt took another step toward a repeat with a powerful score in the $150,000 Lonesome Glory Stakes (Gr. I) at Belmont Park Sunday.

Owned by Virginian Sonny Via, the 7-year-old son of Concern took over at the top of the stretch and drew off late to win by 3 3/4 lengths for Maryland-based trainer Jack Fisher. Sermon Of Love rallied late for second with Red Letter Day a neck back in third. The winner covered the 2 1/2 miles and 12 fences in a course record 4:24.88. Regular jockey Willie Dowling piloted Good Night Shirt, who captured his fourth consecutive Grade I stakes and paid $2.80 as the heavy favorite in a field of eight.

Idle since May, Good Night Shirt broke sharply but settled behind early leader Red Letter Day (Robbie Walsh) through the race’s early stages. Duke Of Earl found a spot in third with Irish invader Dalucci fourth early. Second choice Dark Equation relaxed near the back of the field. With a circuit remaining, Red Letter Day still controlled the pace with Good Night Shirt pulling Dowling out of the saddle. The winner surged at the eighth fence, diving through and landing awkwardly but got back to running with no effect. Finally given some rein on the final turn, Good Night Shirt passed Red Letter Day, flew the final two fences and won easily.

“That was a pretty impressive performance,” said Dowling. “Going into today I thought we were vulnerable with top weight and not running for four months. I thought today was the day for people to beat us, but that was great. He was so good out there today. I cannot believe a horse can go that fast from start to finish and not give up.”

In 2007, Good Night Shirt set a record for yearly steeplechase earings with $314,163 and claimed the championship despite coming into the year as somewhat of an unproven commodity at the highest level. He dispelled that notion and has done even more this year — winning his first three starts and bankrolling $237,000 thus far. The $250,000 Grand National comes next Oct. 18 with the finale being the $150,000 Colonial Cup in November.

Also the Lonesome Glory winner in 2007, Good Night Shirt lifted his steeplechase bankroll past $685,000 (fourth all-time) and won for the fourth consecutive time. — Joe Clancy

(Photos by Tod Marks: Top – Good Night Shirt, Bottom – Jockey Willie Dowling, trainer Jack Fisher, owner Ann Via, NSA president Lou Rafetto, and co-owner Sonny Via are beaming after Good Night Shirt’s 3 3/4 length tally in the $150,000 Lonesome Glory steeplechase.)