“Is that my horse?” Brianne Slater is still getting to know the new steeplechasers under her care. In her defense, they were wearing rugs and walking through sharp sunlight Wednesday morning at Fair Hill. Oh, and they’ve only just arrived.
Three of Slater’s new charges – You’re The Top, Jack Cool, Top Man Michael – are headed to their American debuts along with stablemates Charminster and Cordillera as part of leading owner Irv Naylor’s brigade at Saturday’s Far Hills Races. The richest steeplechase meet in North America at $500,000 lures the best horses in the sport every year and presents another stellar, six-race card. The program includes a $75,000 race for fillies and mares, a $25,000 maiden, a $75,000 novice, the $250,000 Grand National for open horses, a $25,000 3-year-old stakes and a $50,000 timber stakes.
Slater will be part of three races after taking the job training most of Naylor’s horses in late summer. Grand National runner Charminster and 4-year-old filly Cordillera were in the barn when Slater started. The others arrived Monday and Tuesday, and will spend the week at Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center – using the hyperbaric chamber to assist in travel recovery while going through some light training and a school over some fences Thursday.
“We were going to send them to the farm (near Baltimore), but all the shipping is a lot on them,” said Slater, whose horses will van roughly three hours to Far Hills Saturday morning. “They’ve been traveling enough. They all ate up last night and seem happy. Plus, you can do whatever you want here.”
Wednesday, the newcomers got turned out in round pens and then went for easy hacks in the fields.
French-bred You’re The Top follows a familiar path to the United States via Norway. Yes, Norway. The 8-year-old won the Norwegian Champion Hurdle in his most recent start for owner Morten Buskop, who engineered Far Hills assaults by Percussionist (the 2010 Grand National winner) and General Ledger (the 2009 runner-up). Buskop was planning to bring the horse himself, but sold to Naylor instead. The plain bay looked the part Wednesday while resting in his stall under a Baker Blanket. He arrived at Fair Hill Monday, and was ridden Tuesday and Wednesday by Slater’s husband James.
“He’s a neat horse, I like him,” said Slater. “He really bucked and played in the round pen the first day. Morten has called and has been telling me everything about the horse – to give him lots of attention and pats.”
Willie Dowling will ride the 8-year-old, who won five times over jumps (three chase, two hurdle) in England with trainer Nicky Henderson before joining Buskop. Based in Denmark, he specializes in converting English jump winners from big yards to stars in a small barn. You’re The Top is next on the list.
Irish-bred Jack Cool arrived at Fair Hill Tuesday afternoon and has turned heads ever since. The sharp-looking bay sports a long blaze, three white feet and a bouncy step. The 6-year-old son of One Cool Cat has won five Irish hurdle races – but none since April 2011. He’s run six times this year, the most recent a fifth over chase fences at Kilbeggan (Ireland) in September. Xavier Aizpuru rides the 6-year-old, who raced on the flat in England with Peter Chapple-Hyam.
Three-year-old Top Man Michael switched to hurdles summer and was 1-for-2 with a second for trainer Noel Meade in Ireland. The son of Antonius Pius won his debut at Roscommon in August, and followed that with a second at Listowel last month. Ross Geraghty rides as one of 11 in the $25,000 Gladstone hurdle stakes for 3-year-olds.
Naylor won half the six races at Far Hills last year and will have at least one runner in four races Saturday. The Pennsylvanian has won the last two NSA owner championships and sits atop the board for 2012. With stable stars Black Jack Blues and Via Galilei sidelined, Naylor reloaded for an autumn campaign. The reinforcements get their chances Saturday.
“He wants to go to the races and watch his horses run, so it’s a great opportunity when new horses come in,” said Slater, a former assistant to trainer Sanna Hendriks (who won seven consecutive races at Far Hills with McDynamo). “They seem happy and good. You can pick out qualities of all of them that you like. Hopefully they run well.”
A barn veteran compared to the others, Charminster makes his third American start since coming over from England over the summer. The 6-year-old finished second in the New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga and was third in the Lonesome Glory. The Grade 1 performances put the son of Broadway Flyer in the mix, and Slater adds blinkers to the equation as one of 11 in the Grand National. Geraghty takes the call.
Others in the Grand National field include divisional leaders Demonstrative, Spy In The Sky, and Pierrot Lunaire plus 2010 steeplechase champion Slip Away. Four-time English hurdle winner Royal Bonsai arrived this week for trainer Richard Valentine to add to the European theme (four of the 11 were bred outside the U.S. and six raced in other countries before being imported). Jonathan Sheppard entered Divine Fortune, The Price Of Love and History Boy.
NOTES: Slater’s horses were scattered about the therapy center, with You’re The Top a few doors down from Haskell winner Paynter, who napped while standing in a patch of sun in his stall while recovering from surgery at New Bolton Center . . . Post time at Far Hills is 1 p.m. If you’re going, plan to arrive early to beat the traffic . . . If you want to know what steeplechase horses do all day, check out this YouTube video from the barn of Virginia trainer Richard Valentine this week.