It’s here. Already? Already. American jump racing’s championship day – the Far Hills Races in New Jersey – is on for today. Seven races, $850,000 in purses, horses from the United States, Ireland and England, a $450,000 Grade 1 feature, a $100,000 novice, a stakes for 3-year-olds, another for 4-year-olds, another for fillies/mares, even a mile-and-a-half turf stakes and a 130 handicap.
There is quite literally, something for everyone other than maybe people who want to see timber racing. The New Jersey Hunt Cup was getting squeezed by other races so it’s been replaced by that turf stakes, which only strengthens next week’s International Gold Cup in Virginia.
Now, on to New Jersey. Full pari-mutuel wagering is available for the second year with on-site betting and distribution through various simulcast outlets (anywhere that regularly takes the Monmouth Park signal also has Far Hills) and account wagering providers. NYRA is even offering a cross-Hudson Pick 5 with the fourth, fifth and sixth races at Far Hills and the ninth and 10th at Belmont Park. Post time is 1 p.m. and here, hopefully, are some winners.
The team continued its middling run last week. Tom (Andi’amu, Flaming Sword, Schoodic, Full Time Party) and Sean (Andi’amu, Vincent Van Gogo, Flaming Sword and Schoodic) each had four winners while Joe had three (Andi’amu, Vincent Van Gogo, Flaming Sword) and will lament not picking Schoodic. Duh. Sean leads the fall challenge with 10, following by joe withnine and Tom with seven.
And somehow, we ended up with a lot of the same picks Saturday. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re mortal locks, just that we seem to think alike.
Note: you can watch Far Hills on various ADW platforms, at other racetracks, via live stream at farhillsrace.org or nationalsteeplechase.com. Internationally, Sky Sports channel Sky (415) and Virgin Media (535) are carrying the feed as is attheraces.com.
First race. $50,000 Gladstone hurdle stakes for 3-year-olds. They go 2 1/8 miles in the opener with the maximum 10 in the body of the race and two on the also-eligible list. That’s a good sign. There are 3-year-olds in the pipeline. Several exit the same race at Shawan last month. Elfitz won there over Thomas Cubitt, Cotton House, Fast Car and Drilliant. The rematch will involve them, plus newcomer Must See The Doc from Leslie Young’s barn. Twice a winner and once second in three starts this summer in England, the Irv Naylor runner will take some beating. Irish trainer Gordon Elliott brings over Global Freedom, who was second twice in three starts this summer. Elliott runner Caldbeck won this last year. It’s also nice to see major flat owner Bob LaPenta with a jumper in Fast Car (who has a shot).
- Tom: Global Freedom, Must See The Doc, Elfitz.
- Sean: Global Freedom, Must See The Doc, Elfitz.
- Joe: Must See The Doc, Global Freedom, Elfitz.
Second race. $75,000 Harry E. Harris hurdle stakes for 4-year-olds, also at 2 1/8 miles. This division is slowly forming with some restricted races like this. Nine run, and it’s interesting to see a couple others (Sportswear and Chief Justice) opt for the novice. Elliott sends over Lethal Steps (rated 129). He won at Galway in July and was second at Navan last month. Jack Fisher trainee Cracker Factory (135 before he came to the U.S.) drops out of novice company after a dull sixth at Belmont. He’s won four of nine. Bodes Well, Knockholt and Our Legend have all won in the U.S. this year. Caldbeck won over the course last year. Galway Kid won an Irish point-to-point by 15 lengths in June.
- Tom: Caldbeck, Lethal Steps, Cracker Factory.
- Sean: Cracker Factory, Lethal Steps, Caldbeck.
- Joe: Cracker Factory, Galway Kid, Lethal Steps.
Third race. $75,000 Peapack hurdle stakes for fillies/mares going 2 1/8 miles. Nine runners in a division that struggles to find any real standouts and/or sustainability in the U.S. One of the American-based runners has won more than two races – Sarah Joyce – and she’s was beaten in her two tries this spring. Top Irish trainer Willie Mullins drops in with five-time hurdle winner Pravalaguna. The French-bred regularly takes on males and has race din England, Irelan and France. She won over hurdles at Cork this summer six days after finishing seventh of 22 in the Galway Plate over chase fences. Rated 142, she will be very tough to handle, though she probably wants a longer trip. Mullins nearly went for the Grand National. Ciboure is a maiden, but was second in this two years ago.
- Tom: Pravalaguna, Sarah Joyce, Bercasa.
- Sean: Pravalaguna, Sarah Joyce, Mavourneen.
- Joe: Pravalaguna, Sarah Joyce, Bercasa.
Fourth race. $100,000 Foxbrook Supreme novice hurdle stakes going 2 1/2 miles. Can Snap Decision do it again? He’s won three in a row – maiden, allowance, novice stakes – and can make it four if he repeats the efforts. The only hint of doubt might be the schedule: He’s been running all year (spring-summer-fall) after basically doing the same thing last year on the flat. Dermot Weld shows up with Days Without End, a recent hurdle winner at Ireland’s Bellewstown Racecourse (home to some Clancy relatives…). Markhan, who beat Snap Decision at Nashville, returns for Ricky Hendriks. City Dreamer tops the field with 13 jump starts, and won a novice at Nashville. He’ll improve off the Belmont run and at Far Hills. Chief Justice might finally be sitting on his best race after a troubled fourth at Nashville and a flattening-out third at Belmont. He’s won five times, tops in the field. This starts the NYRA-Far Hills cross-country Pick Five.
- Tom: Snap Decision, Days Without End, Chief Justice.
- Sean: Snap Decision, Chief Justice, City Dreamer.
- Joe: Chief Justice, City Dreamer, Snap Decision.
Fifth race. $50,000 New Jersey Hunt Cup turf stakes going 1 1/2 miles. Far Hills used to card a flat race (Joe even rode in it a couple times), but it was nothing like this. Interesting idea and it spurs at least a little crossover with Arnaud Delacour showing up with Surprise Twist for Lael Stable and Woodslane Farm sending Lunaire to Jack Fisher. Douglas Road won on the turf at Shawan, which might give him a slight education edge over some of the other flat runners. Fearsome tested Group 3 company at Sandown two starts ago and has won four in a row on all-weather tracks over the winter. Renown and Aldous Snow have graded form on the flat. Fun race.
- Tom: Douglas Road, Surprise Twist, Lunaire.
- Sean: Douglas Road, Lunaire, Surprise Twist.
- Joe: Douglas Road, Surprise Twist, Lunaire.
Sixth race. $450,000 American Grand National hurdle stakes going 2 5/8 miles. The big one. First of all, it was never anything like the English Grand National (even back in the day) though the name is fun. Dating to 1899, the race has bounced around to different hosts including Morris Park, Belmont Park, Saratoga, Fair Hill and Foxfield. Second of all, this is a much better race than last year when Jury Duty took care of business for the Irish raiders. Wicklow Brave rightly deserved respect, attention and admiration. What a horse. He’s a Group/Grade 1 winner on the flat and over jumps, a Cheltenham winner, a Melbourne Cup starter and quite possibly the only horse to be ridden by Javier Castellano and Ruby Walsh. The 10-year-old Mullins trainee (Read more here) has won three in a row over chase fences, and will get tested from all sides. Jury Duty is back off sixth in a prep at Gowran Park 11 days ago. Elliott also brings over The Storyteller, who was a distant eighth in the same prep. He’s rated 158 over chase fences, gets Lasix for the first time in a race and will be a massive price with Davy Russell aboard. The Nicky Henderson-trained Brain Power won the International Hurdle at Cheltenham last December. He’s been away since April, but has taken on some of the best in England and Ireland (Wicklow Brave, Footpad, Buveur d’Air, etc.). He could be a factor if ready. Americans Moscato and Scorpiancer are better than their last efforts at Belmont. Expect better. Iranistan makes his long-awaited return to hurdling off a powerhouse rookie season in 2018. He won three times and placed in two summer Grade 1 stakes. The break probably helped, but he’ll need his best. Surprising Soul won at Belmont a month ago, finished between Scorpiancer and Moscato at Nashville and was a solid second in the Far Hills novice last year. He’ll need to prove he can run two good races this close together.
- Tom: Wicklow Brave, Jury Duty, Iranistan.
- Sean: Wicklow Brave, Jury Duty, Scorpiancer.
- Joe: Wicklow Brave, Moscato, Iranistan.
Seventh race. $50,000 Charles Appleton hurdle handicap stakes for horses rated 130 and below. They go 2 5/8 miles and you might have to spread that far to find a winner among a well-matched group. Grade 1 winner All The Way Jose carries the top rating, and 158 pounds, along with Amschel and Peppay Le Pugh. Old pro All The Way Jose hasn’t won since the 2017 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park but drops into the handicap ranks and was a decent third in this year’s Lonesome Glory. Can he out-gallop them? Amschel was third in the Far Hills novice last year, his only U.S. try after winning three of four hurdle starts in Ireland. Peppay Le Pugh’s two American runs in Grade 1 company this summer at Saratoga were awful. This is probably more his game. Pik Em won at Shawan in September. Swansea Mile has a couple races on his form that would win this. My Afleet ran well twice in novice company this spring, and has loads of class. Khafayya dominated maidens at Shawan, but needed 13 tries to break his maiden. Kremlin was second in this in 2017, and won a similar race in 2018.
- Tom: Amschel, Stooshie, All The Way Jose.
- Sean: All The Way Jose, Pik Em, My Afleet.
- Joe: My Afleet, All The Way Jose, Amschel.