Fifth race. Handicap hurdle for horses rated 125 and lower going 2 5/8 miles for a $35,000 purse. American steeplechasing took a page from the rest of the world and introduced a handicapping or ratings system to in 2015.
The idea is each active winner over hurdles gets assigned a ratings number and the condition book includes races for horses rated at certain levels. Sounds radical, but it’s a potential game-changer for horses, owners, trainers. Jump racing may someday not need claiming races. Eleven runners signed up for this one and it’s a strong race. Call it the Grand National Light.
Inti: Bred in Uruguay (really), the 10-year-old makes his first start since 2015 for Maryland-based trainer Cyril Murphy. Gray son of Dubai Dust (who’s by Broad Brush which is cool) is 8-for-14 in the trifecta over jumps with a stakes win in the Zeke Ferguson of 2013. Struggled to break through in top level while finishing behind Decoy Daddy (three times), Demonstrative, Mr. Hot Stuff and Divine Fortune. Will love the class relief. Prepped on flat at Shawan. Rated 125 so carries top weight of 158 pounds.
Powerofone: Since a nice beginning, his career has gone nowhere with a pile of losses over jumps and even a sprint try on the dirt at Saratoga. Has finished once in his last six jump starts and that was a 10th (beaten 24 lengths). He can’t be that bad, can he? Trainer Jonathan Sheppard still plugging away, gets champion jockey Paddy Young to take the ride. One more try?
Artie’s Jasper: Another who must be better than recent form. Won maiden hurdle last May, his third try over jumps and went to the shelf after pulling up in a Monmouth allowance. Spent part of this summer at Saratoga, but didn’t get a chance to run. Was going OK in Belmont race when when a horse in front of him drifted out a bit and “Artie” lost his concentration or something. Hammered fence and sent jockey Robbie Walsh to the turf. Never got cover, never relaxed and was wide the whole way in that race. Easier trip, better jumping could put him in mix.
The Nephew: Owner, trainer, jockey won a ratings race at Shawan Downs in September so don’t ignore. Rated five points higher than weight thanks to apprentice jockey allowance. Five chase wins in England with top trainer Jonjo O’Neill. Moved to Jack Fisher, prepped on flat at Virginia Fall last week. Ready, but not an easy spot.
Kingdom: Plenty of talent and you know he’s primed for big effort for hometown owners The Fields Stable. Flat prep at Suffolk in September after more than a year on the shelf. In 2013, rolled through levels with maiden win in May, stakes try at Saratoga and a win at Camden. Last year ended after just two starts, but one of those was a narrow loss at Saratoga. Player.
Rodriguez: Irish-bred, Spanish-named, the 8-year-old veteran won twice over hurdles and once over chase fences across the pond. American debut came at Shawan in late September and was pulled up. Had to need that, his first run in more than a year, but will wait and see. Would appreciate if this were a rainy year at Far Hills.
Cocodimama: Perfect example of new ratings condition as would-be claimer won similar race at Fair Hill in May. Sixth in Saratoga novice stakes, but drops back down a notch. Facing tough customers, however. Cool horse, probably a step below major players in here.
Hiwasse Gem: Veteran mare roared to life this spring with back-to-back wins for Hall of Fame trainer Janet Elliot, also the owner and co-breeder. Never got a chance to run at Saratoga, and opts for this over filly/mare race. Gets in light at 136 pounds (22 from the favorites). Aiming for an upset.
Broxbourne: Inspired effort for Fisher when second at 29-1 at Belmont last month. Got an easy lead and simply kept galloping there. Theoretically easier to do that around Far Hills, but going 2 5/8 miles against big field with plenty of gas behind him. Two starts this spring were awful and can’t afford a regression.
Plated: Won going 2 1/16 miles at Saratoga in August, but style could suit longer trip and relaxed tempo of this race. Couldn’t catch Cocodimama at Fair Hill so clean run late will be important. Reunites with Sean McDermott, who engineered Saratoga win for trainer Jimmy Day. Bred by Overbrook Farm and destined for big things on flat ($500,000 purchase as a 2-year-old by Lael Stable) before making conversion. Gets his big chance.
Forgotten Man: Another tailor made for this type of race, even if he’s stepping up. Two wins this year, Stoneybrook in April and Foxfield in September, came in optional-claiming hurdle test for non-winners of $18,000. Brings lots of experience with 22 jump starts and a dozen top-three finishes. Fourth to good one in Lune de Caro at Saratoga. Won’t face him today, though still a few classy foes. Runs his race, will it be good enough?