American steeplechase fans get their moment in the sun – well, maybe rain; let’s hope not rain – at Saturday’s Far Hills Races in Far Hills, N.J. Held for the 102nd time, the races occupy a unique spot in local culture as THE can’t-miss fall event while at the same time standing atop the National Steeplechase Association calendar.
Seven races, $675,000 in total purses, a $250,000 Grade 1 hurdle stakes, international runners, championship implications and world-class tailgating/people-watching. Oh, and television and wagering. The card will once again be available on account-wagering platforms and broadcast as part of the America’s Day at the Races program on the Fox Sports networks starting at 12:30 p.m. TIHR’s Joe Clancy will be part of the show. There’s even a cross-country pick five made up of the fifth at Far Hills, seventh at Aqueduct, eighth at Aqueduct, sixth at Far Hills and seventh at Far Hills.
Post time for the first at Far Hills is 12:50 p.m.
A little housekeeping from last week for the TIHR handicappers: Nobody picked a winner at Virginia Fall (that’s terrible, though top picks finished second over and over and over…). At Genesee Valley, Joe swept all three timber races with Mr. Fine Threads, Salamanca School and Monbeg Stream. Sean had Monbeg Stream and Salmanca School. Tom had Salamanca School. Joe leads the autumn challenge with six winners. Tom and Sean have three each.
Now, let’s get to New Jersey. Turf condition will be a key and it was soft before some rain Friday afternoon with some expected early Saturday too. Soft ground favors the European-breds and especially the Irish-based runners over for the day.
First race. $50,000 Gladstone Hurdle Stakes for 3-year-olds going 2 1/8 miles. 12:50 p.m. First-year jumpers including three making their debuts in a field of eight. The race goes through Irish-based Kyogo and the Irish-based (until this week) Our Boy Wes. Each has won once in three starts and are by far the most experienced of the group. Kyogo won a three-runner race last month at Perth in Scotland. Our Boy Wes won at Ballinrobe (an awesome place if you ever get the chance to go) in August. He joins the barn of Keri Brion, who also sends out Shawan Downs winner Lightning Ridge, but she just met him. Irish trainer Emmett Mullins was coming with the son of Postponed, but Atlantic Friends Racing made the purchase. Kyogo’s trainer Gordon Elliiott has won the last three runnings of this, but has brought more experienced types before.
- Joe: Our Boy Wes, Kyogo, St. John’s.
- Sean: Kyogo, St. John’s, Lightning Ridge.
- Tom: St. John’s, Kyogo, Lightning Ridge.
Second race. $50,000 Harry Harris Hurdle Stakes for 4-year-olds going 2 1/8 miles. 1:33 p.m. Seven tackle this one and, like the first, it at least somewhat revolves around an Irish raider. Filly Calico has run 22 times over jumps, more than the rest combined. She’s won four of 14 this year (yes, it’s her 15th start of 2023; she even ran on back-to-back days in August). The Yanks will hope that took some of the starch out of her. Chosen Judge won nicely at Shawan for Leslie Young. So did Total Joy, who is undefeated in two starts over hurdles. Aftermath is by Arrogate and they can seemingly do anything. Rocket One has won his last two, a Shawan handicap and a Colonial Downs maiden. Maiden Active Duty has turned in two solid tries.
- Joe: Total Joy, Rocket One, Active Duty.
- Sean: Total Joy, Calico, Rocket One.
- Tom: Rocket One, Active Duty, Calico.
Third race. $100,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle novice stakes going 2 1/2 miles. 2:16 p.m. Only five runners, but they’re the right five. L’Imperator won at Saratoga and ran out of steam late when second at Aqueduct. He won his best flat race in really wet turf at Belmont last spring. Cool Jet won at this level in May and skipped the summer with this in mind. He’s also a second-year horse which really helps. Abaan is a huge talent with a Grade 3 win on the flat, but this is just his third jump start and the first two were at Colonial Downs. Totally different game here. The Hero Next Door won two good races this spring, but fell while in front late at Nashville. He’ll need to save his energy for the end this time. Like Cool Jet, Awakened is a second-season novice, which will help. He has run three good races this year, but will get tested by soft turf and might even scratch in favor of a start next week if it’s too soft.
- Joe: Cool Jet, The Hero Next Door, L’Imperator.
- Sean: The Hero Next Door, Cool Jet, L’Imperator.
- Tom: Awakened, Cool Jet, L’Imperator.
Fourth race. $75,000 Peapack Hurdle Stakes for fillies/mares going 2 1/8 miles. 3:01 p.m. Eight in the program, but you might want to stop at the first one. Irish mare Say Goodbye (No. 1 in your program) has won three times over jumps and tuned up for this with a second at Gowran Park Sept. 29. She’ll be a tougher out than Trea Turner. Chief rival Gold Charm represents the American side, though she was bred in Ireland and raced in England before joining the Irv Naylor/Cyril Murphy team. The 4-year-old filly has won her last two and gets 12 pounds from the favorite.
- Joe: Say Goodbye, Gold Charm, Cainudothetwist.
- Sean: Say Goodbye, Gold Charm, Right Tempo.
- Tom: Say Goodbye, Gold Charm, Cainudothetwist.
Fifth race. $50,000 Charles Appleton Hurdle Stakes for horses rated 130 and below going 2 5/8 miles. 3:44 p.m. This might be the day’s best betting race with a field of nine, all fairly proven and competitive. Presence Of Mind won this in 2021 when part of the Leslie Young barn. Now with Jack Fisher, the Irish-bred halted an 18-month layoff with a second at Foxfield Oct. 1. Fisher’s Gordon’s Jet is the 158-pound highweight. He won a handicap in April, finished second in a stakes in May and tried (and flunked) a tough test at Saratoga. This will be more his game. Redicean won this last year, off three consecutive losses, and tries to repeat. He’s lost four in a row, a good second to Snap Decision in April and three double-digit defeats since. Proven Innocent was on the rise last year, and was third in the 4-year-old race at Far Hills, but his 2023 has been pretty terrible (Fisher used a different word). The son of Blame, whose sixth at Aqueduct wasn’t as bad as it looks, adds blinkers and gets some class relief. Wicked West was way too strong early last time at Foxfield and could improve. Zabeel Champion is better than he looked at Foxfield, or should be.
- Joe: Presence Of Mind, Gordon’s Jet, Proven Innocent.
- Sean: Redicean, Presence Of Mind, Gordon’s Jet.
- Tom: Presence Of Mind, Gordon’s Jet, Soviet Pimpernel.
Sixth race. $250,000 American Grand National hurdle stakes (Grade 1) going 2 5/8 miles. 4:32 p.m. The richest jump race in North America lured eight entries and, like many on the card, goes through Irish-based horses Salvador Ziggy and Seddon. The former has won seven of his last 11 over jumps, and three of his last four. Rated 153 in Ireland. Seddon (148) isn’t too far behind, and is top form too. He won a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham last October and a handicap chase there in March. He was fourth in a 2-mile flat race in August and second in a 2 5/8-mile hurdle race in September. Last year’s winner Hewick was rated 163 so these guys aren’t quite that good, but they’re good. The ground will play a role. Soft won’t suit Snap Decision, who might scratch and wait a week. The rest should all handle it. Scorpion’s Revenge is a bit of a sleeper off the slight layoff. Jimmy P should love the ground and could actually make a championship case with a win. Snap Decision has been first or second in 19 of 21 starts over jumps (12 wins). He’s also lost four of his last five. His Iroquois race could win this. His 2022 Sheppard race would win anything. Can he find them? On ground he won’t love? Note to Snap: Don’t be in front early. Trying passing horses for a change, and crank up the pressure over the final mile. Noah And The Ark is searching for his best, like when he was second last year. He adds Lasix. Merry Maker has won two good races this year, placed in a novice stakes and could make his championship case with a win. Of course, it’s a big shift in the weights from Aqueduct to here (Snap Decision gave him 20 pounds last time). Mortlach is better than his one U.S. start, a seventh in the Iroquois. Fascinating race as always.
- Joe: Jimmy P, Salvador Ziggy, Merry Maker.
- Sean: Salvador Ziggy, Seddon, Scorpion’s Revenge.
- Tom: Salvador Ziggy, Snap Decision, Merry Maker.
Seventh race. $100,000 John Forbes Memorial Stakes going 2 miles on the turf.. 5:17 p.m. No jumps here though the field of eight includes hurdle winners Who’s Counting and Cibolian. McLovin’s flat form – three wins, a stakes placing, experience at Kentucky Downs – will help. Who’s Counting owns three wins, each, on the flat and over jumps. He’ll be in there swinging. Cibolian was beaten just 4 lengths in the Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup in June. Agitare won this last year, though he has been pretty dull since. Riptide Rock finished second in the Queen’s Plate (yes, the Queen’s Plate) in 2021 and won going 2 miles at Colonial Downs in September. King Tsunami keeps improving for Todd Wyatt. Deep group.
- Joe: McLovin, Riptide Rock, Who’s Counting.
- Sean: McLovin, Riptide Rock, Agitare.
- Tom: King Tsunami, McLovin, Riptide Rock.