The Big One. The American Grand National. Worth $300,000, it’s the richest race of the year, and like every year, has attracted a stellar field. This year, it has an international flare with British import Hunt Ball and Irish import Eshtiaal invading to attempt to topple 2014 champion Demonstrative.
Rawnaq. Imported this summer, the 8-year-old owns two wins on the flat, four wins over hurdles and two wins over fences. Rated 142 over fences, he returned to hurdle racing after falling at Aintree in April. Since his return, he’s won, finished second and unseated his jockey in the Galway Hurdle. Quality import who adds to Naylor battalion.
All Together. Veteran has seen better days and makes his fourth hurdle start for flat trainer David Jacobson. Beaten just 2 lengths in the Lonesome Glory, but still needs to find a dramatic form reversal to contend with this group. Cool horse. Big ask.
Alajmal. Actually had some wise guys talking before the Lonesome Glory (including TIHR’s Joe Clancy) only to make them look far from wise when he retreated to finish last. Four-time winner over hurdles hasn’t been able to re-fire the stove since upsetting the Colonial Cup in 2013. If anybody can rejuvenate him, it’s his Hall of Fame trainer but hard to fathom a big change since his flop at Belmont Park.
Dawalan. Another solid import for Naylor. Age on his side as he’s only 5, pedigree is potent for his new country and his effort in the Lonesome Glory was strong, when finishing third on a course and set up that probably wasn’t optimal for him. Rated 147 over hurdles in England and certainly hinted he belongs with a quality effort in his stateside debut. More water added to a deep well.
Hunt Ball. What a horse. Ten-year-old veteran has been slightly overshadowed by his connections over the years (this is what happens when your owner rides you into the winner’s circle) but just stop, look and respect what he’s done in his career. Climbed the handicap ladder in one season, came to America, went back to England, jumped around the Grand National at Aintree, then returned to novice hurdling to win three in a row. Now, he’s back. Certainly doing better and on a better trajectory than in his first foray here.
Decoy Daddy. What a horse II. Thirteen-year-old stalwart kicks off his fall campaign with a rare trip to Far Hills. Showed he hadn’t lost a step this spring with strong efforts in the Temple Gwathmey and the National Hunt Cup. Hard to believe he can turn the tables at this level at this point of his career, but if he does, well, stand on the hill and appreciate it because he’s been a soldier all his life.
Demonstrative. Quelled his Far Hills demons with a tour de force last year, clinching his Horse of the Year title. This year, he gutted out the Iroquois in May, won a jumper flat race at Parx, finished third in the A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga while giving away a boulder and then flopped in the New York Turf Writers Cup. Afterward, a lung infection surfaced and it was time to regroup. Richard Valentine skipped the Lonesome Glory and aimed here. A breeze up his local hill Tuesday showed he’s back at his best. Still the champ in our eyes.
Eshtiaal. Three-time winner over hurdles in Ireland invades for Gordon Elliott and Barry Geraghty. Showed he’s tough with four hurdle races in 22 days in May, winning three of them, including on back-to-back days. Good to see the Dynaformer flag still waving over the Far Hills course. Rated 123 in Ireland, which is a far cry from the likes of Rawnaq, Dawalan and Hunt Ball. Crafty trainer, decent horse, but needs to prove he’s this caliber.
Charminster. The last of the Naylor brigade, the 9-year-old veteran has yet to break through against Grade 1 competition but is never disgraced, including a fourth in the Lonesome Glory and a third in the Turf Writers this year. Would be a surprise.