Far Hills aftermath

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Two days after U.S. Steeplechase Championship Day, what do we know now?Other than autumn steeplechase weather can be as wild as a 14-horsemaiden claimer.

1. The Eclipse Award is still up for grabs. Five Grade I stakes have produced five winners. Pierrot Lunaire (Iroquois), Mixed Up (A.P. Smithwick), Spy In The Sky (New York Turf Writers), Red Letter Day (Lonesome Glory) and Your Sum Man (Grand National) form the quintet. All are still in training and it sure would make life easier if one of them – please – wins the Colonial Cup next month in Camden, S.C.

2. Tom Voss and Jack Fisher have the deepest stables in the country. The Maryland horsemen just win. Voss won three at Far Hills, and lost ground in the trainers’ race to Fisher (who won two each at Far Hills and Great Meadow). With six stops to go, Fisher leads Voss 20-17. Voss took control of the earnings competition with $719,963 (including $247,000 earned Saturday). Voss won races with a newcomer, Your Sum Man, and two horses that started the year in the stable (Left Unsaid and Dictina’s Boy). Fisher countered with an International Gold Cup timber score with Seeyouatthevent, a steeplethon win with Major Malibu and Far Hills victories with Ambersham and Hope For Us All. For the record, Fisher thinks he’s “running out of bullets” as the season winds to a close.

3. The jockeys’ race might not be as over as we first thought as Xavier Aizpuru finally got back on the board with a win at Far Hills. The two-time defending champion halted a dry spell dating back to Saratoga Open House in July (Duke Of Earl) and now trails Young 17-12. Aizpuru needs to get hot and needs Young to get cool, but could make a run with a big finish. Jody Petty also has a dozen wins, but probably doesn’t have the same volume of mounts.

4. American steeplechase participants seem to take it on the chin sometimes – and this is one of those times. Your Sum Man, Pierrot Lunaire, General Ledger, Ross Geraghty, Peter Buchanan and so on make it seem like any horse or jockey can come here from overseas and succeed. That’s not the case, even if the United States was built on opportunity. If the turf suddenly got firm for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, Mixed Up would be competitive. If Danielle Hodsdon could go to England and ride first-call for Paul Nicholls, she’d win races. Don’t hold a grudge, the invaders bring loads of talent and experience – and are only capitalizing on chances presented. But it sure would be nice to see some more homegrown success.

5. Universal Sports television and Internet coverage helped the game. Period. The ST team spent the day at the races so we haven’t seen the show, but it had to be a good thing. Exposure is good, so is the type of camera coverage used at Far Hills. Finding a way to pay for that would go a long way.

6. Mark Johnson can call races. The Englishman narrated the action at Far Hills into mini stories, complete with details of past races, jockey achievements and original phrases such as “from flag fall to that’s all.” Give him a win in his American steeplechase debut, but don’t forget Tony Bentley.

7. Dynaformer may someday be known as the best steeplechase sire in history. The Kentucky stallion produced Far Hills winners Left Unsaid and Ambersham, who combined to earn $130,000. In other acton at Far Hills, Tax Ruling finished third in the Grand National and Dynaskill placed second in the Peapack. Sire of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro and a host of flat stars, Dynafomer puts stamina – and an affinity for demanding soft turf – into his progeny. Through October 23, the NSA top 10 includes three sons of Dynaformer (Left Unsaid, Tax Ruling and Dynaski).

8. Betting would have been nice. The NSA tried to secure pari-mutuel wagering on the races at Far Hills, via a simulcast hub at Canada’s Woodbine Racecourse, but ran into problems with the New Jersey Racing Commission. The plan did not call for on-site betting, but the commission insisted that state law required a pari-mutuel license or permit. Discussions the week of the races did not make progress and the NJRC notified the NSA and simulcast sites of the issues via letter Friday. The wagering was canceled, but not before notifications appeared on account wagering sites and major racing publications. Steeplechasing can live without the betting, but could have done without the embarrassment.

9. The Boy Scouts are right. The “Be prepared” motto works for steeplechase weather. Be ready for anything – wind, rain, mud, maybe even snow – and the day seems easy. Savvy raceogers went to Far Hills and Great Meadow this week with jackets, sweaters, shoes, rain pants, hats, gloves, hand-warmers, umbrellas. When the rain bypassed Far Hills for much of the day, live got a lot easier.

10. The International Gold Cup could use its day. Putting two premier meets on the same day doesn’t help anyone, it cheapens the product and the sport can’t afford that.

11. This list has to end somewhere…