Jockey Robbie Walsh stopped by the office this morning and summed up Far Hills the best: “When you go to Far Hills and the ground is like that, you can throw out all the form you have and go to Far Hills form. Who’s run well there before? Foreign-breds, you know who will run well if you think about it.”
Just look at the Grand National.
Irish-breds finished first, second, fourth and fifth. Six of the race’s seven finishers raced in Europe before coming to the United States. Yes, grinders ruled once again at the nation’s richest steeplechase meet – run in turf officially labeled yielding but called a number adjectives by the day’s jockeys: holding, dead, soft in places, really soft in others.
Superbly maintained, the New Jersey course often comes up soft, due to the calendar and the conditions and this year was no exception thanks to rain three days out. Drying conditions Thursday, Friday and Saturday helped some, but left Americans Arcadius, Divine Fortune, Tax Ruling, Mabou, Italian Wedding, Nationbuilder and Lead Us Not at a disadvantage. Only Dynaski, who finished third in a huge run, broke through with a solid finish for the Yanks.
Soft turf or firm, it might not have mattered anyway as Black Jack Blues ran his 13 rivals off their feet – skipping over the ground, flying his fences, leaving the others gasping. Three weeks before Far Hills, the Irish-bred landed in the United States and dominated a restricted stakes at Virginia Fall. The nearly black son of Definite Article went to Far Hills and did the same thing to a far tougher group. The 8-year-old earned $150,000, gave Naylor and trainer J.W. Delozier their third win of the day and helped the owner set a record for yearling earnings with $605,775 (with four weekends left in the season).
The Rest of the Story
– Black Jack Bues is third consecutive Irish-bred to win the Grand National, following Your Sum Man (2009) and Percussionist (2010). Those two have yet to win another race.
– Jockey Ross Geraghty makes them count. He’s won two of the last three Grand Nationals and five races at Far Hills over the past three years. His record at Far Hills stands at five wins from 14 rides (36 percent) in 2009, 2010, 2011. Elsewhere, he’s 9-for-111 in the same timeframe (8 percent).
– Naylor’s monster day included three wins: the maiden with recent purchase Imperial Gin, a 4-year-old who made his NSA debut with a third for the Boniface family at Shawan Downs; the Foxbrook Novice with Lake Placid, a $10,000 claim a month earlier; and the Grand National. In addition, Organisateur was second in the Grand National. In all, Naylor’s 13 starters earned $265,520 on the day.
– Trainer J.W. Delozier, who recently took the job training on Naylor’s farm in Maryland, tripled on the season’s biggest day. All three were recent purchases by the former jockey: Black Jack Blues from an English career that included six wins over chase and hurdle fences, Imperial Gin off a third in a maiden hurdle at Shawan Downs and Lake Placid out of a claiming hurdle at Colonial Downs last month.
– Lake Placid won his sixth race of 2011, and his second for Naylor. The horse’s $114,000 in earnings this year have been split among three owners: Bert and Diana Firestone, Debra Kachel and Naylor. Claimed twice for $10,000, the son of Giant’s Causeway is running away with champion novice honors in the process.
– Three-year-old winner Wanganui – named after a town in New Zealand – spoke up for steeplechase breeding. Bred by Mimi Voss and racing for The Fields Stable of Voss and Betty Merck, the chestnut is a son of steeplechase winner Distant Drumroll and a half-brother to former champion distaffer Guelph. Visiting Irishman Peter Buchanan was in for the ride.
– Filly/mare stakes winner Sweet Shani continued her remarkable career, improving to 2-for-3 in her 11-year-old season with an easy – EASY – victory in the $50,000 Peapack. Trained by Jonathan Sheppard for Mary Ann Houghland, the old gray mare overwhelmed six rivals to win by 24 1/4 lengths (despite giving away at least 8 pounds to the others) under Danielle Hodsdon.
– Delta Park gave Joey Elliott a fitting going away present in the New Jersey Hunt Cup timber stakes, rallying to take the lead before the last fence and then holding off Incomplete. Elliott came to the U.S. with Dirar, trained by Elliott’s brother Gordon, this summer and stayed to supervise the horse’s training. An exercise rider and part-time jockey at home, Joey saw some a few timber races, expressed an interested, borrowed some racing equipment from various jockeys and picked up a few rides – including the Far Hills stakes for trainer Jack Fisher.
– For some reason, big days happen often at Far Hills as Delozier’s training triple has been matched recently by Tom Voss in 2009, Jack Fisher in 2008 and Sanna Hendriks in 2007 and 2005.
– So who’s your champion? Far Hills is supposed to help crown the Eclipse Award winner and may have in Black Jack Blues but it’s a bit muddy. No horse has won two Grade I stakes with only the Colonial Cup remaining. Chief contenders: the Grand National winner, he’s won two stakes, leads the earnings list and beat the best field in the richest race; Tax Ruling, if the Iroquois winner regroups and takes the Colonial Cup; Decoy Daddy, if the Gwathmey and Frost winner wins the Noel Laing and the Colonial Cup; Mabou, if the Turf Writers winner adds the Colonial Cup – and that’s pretty much it. Smithwick winner Divine Fortune lost his jockey at Far Hills, but might have an argument if he could win the Colonial Cup. And here’s a wild card…Lake Placid. He’s won six races including a novice stakes and is second on the earnings board. He’d have to win the Colonial Cup, but stranger things have happened (all year).