Far Hills nominations show quality

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It’s that time of year in American jump racing – the odd pause between nominations to the Far Hills Races and actual entries for the Far Hills races. Both will soon be followed by the $700,000 world-class day of jump racing, set for Oct. 15 in the countryside of northern New Jersey.

The course is ready, as evidenced by some photo of lush grass that would rival any turf anywhere. The race meet just announced a live-streaming deal on its website farhillsrace.org and nationalsteeplechase.com. And, two English invaders will add intrigue to the $350,000 American Grand National Grade 1 hurdle stakes. If you’re still of a mind to attend, it’s a can’t-miss day of racing. Do what you can to be there. Now, just keep the hurricane or a nor’easter from fouling it all up.

Nominations to the day’s five stakes closed Monday and there were few surprises. Final entries won’t differ too much. The more intriguing questions will be who enters the $50,000 maiden hurdle (and how many) and the $50,000 handicap hurdle. Two maiden hurdle races overfilled for this weekend at Virginia Fall, while the handicap is open to every horse in the sport except Rawnaq and Scorpiancer.

The Grand National: You would think the year’s richest race – by $150,000 – would lure more than 10 nominations, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. From an American perspective, Rawnaq looks unbeatable. The stakes division also lost champion Demonstrative to retirement, champion Dawalan to an injury and multiple Grade 1 winner Bob Le Beau to a broken leg at Saratoga.

The Grand National list of Andi’amu, Charminster, Days of Heaven, Martini Brother, Parker’s Project, Portrade, Rawnaq, Scorpiancer, Sharp Rise and Tempt Me Alex won’t force any comparisons to the great 1990s showdowns of Lonesome Glory, Warm Spell and Mistico but it’s a solid group.

Discussion starts with Rawnaq. The Irish-bred finished third in last year’s 2 5/8-mile race, then followed up with a second in the Grade 1 Colonial Cup. When his Irv Naylor-owned stablemate Dawalan went to the sidelines with an injury this spring, Rawnaq more than stepped up. The 9-year-old dominated the Temple Gwathmey in April, then turned aside Irish raiders Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon from trainer Willie Mullins’ yard in the Grade 1 Iroquois in May. That win qualified Rawnaq for a $500,000 bonus should he win the World Hurdle at Cheltenham in March. Designed to foster international competition, the Brown Advisory Challenge has done just that as Rawnaq and trainer Cyril Murphy take their first strides toward that goal in the Grand National. Rawnaq will have to do it without jockey Jack Doyle, who’s out for the season with an injury. Murphy was contemplating no shortage of options, most likely a big name from the English/Irish circuit. Murphy also nominated Naylor’s veteran Charminster, potentially an insurance policy if something were to happen to Rawnaq.

Scorpiancer rates the top American challengers off his win in the Lonesome Glory last month. Trained by Jack Fisher for Bruton Street-US, the Irish-bred won over the Far Hills course last year but has finished behind Rawnaq twice this year.

In a breakthrough performance, Portade won the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga for The Fields Stable and trainer Elizabeth Voss. Voss also nominated novice stakes winner Tempt Me Alex, who should thrive at the distance though he gets a solid class test.

Jonathan Sheppard counters with veterans Martini Brother and Parker’s Project. Neither owns a Grade 1 win, though they’ve been regulars in the division for years.

Trainer Leslie Young nominated Andi’amu, whose American jump career includes little but solid performances. The French-bred was second to Portrade in the Turf Writers, and won a handicap hurdle at Monmouth Park in June.

The two new names on the list rate a long look, and also travel the farthest.

English trainer Charlie Longsdon nominated Sharp Rise, whose 2016 form makes him a factor. The Irish-bred has won five races this year – scoring in a novice hurdle in April, three handicap chases and a handicap hurdle while rising up the handicap ranks. His official handicap rating is 156 over hurdles and 154 over chase fences. As a comparison, Rawnaq reaches 144 over hurdles before coming to the United States. Most recently, Sharp Rise won by 10 lengths at Stratford Sept. 3. He led throughout going just more than 2 miles on good turf. For his career the son of Croco Rouge has won nine of 20 starts under rules.

English trainer Nicky Henderson sends over Days Of Heaven, though the French-bred has an American owner in Gillian Johnston. The 6-year-old has won three of 10 hurdle starts for Henderson, and scored in his only chase start at Kempton in May. The son of Saint Des Saints has tried England’s biggest stages three times, finishing ninth of 12 (behind Nichols Canyon) at Aintree last April, finishing 16th of 17 at Cheltenham last November and finishing 23rd of 26 at Cheltenham in March. Most recently, he lost his jockey when stumbling three fences from the finish Sept. 23.

The Foxbrook: The list hit 11 for the $100,000 novice hurdle and it’s a strong bunch despite a Saratoga season where the novice stakes didn’t draw sufficient entries to be carded. Hardrock Eleven has won his last two and will shoulder high weight of 159 pounds for Doug Fout and Gigi Lazenby. Others in the group are Hisaabaat, Special Skills, Swansea Mile, All That Rules, Class Cherokee, Miguel Grau, Lyonell, Ice It, Berland and Castle Hill. Wide open.

The Pepack: The $50,000 filly/mare hurdle stakes lured 11 including 2015 race winner One Lucky Lady. She’s the division standout and will take plenty of beating once again. She’ll also give away up to 16 pounds to the others including Lady Yeats, Dino Mite, The Grange, Ivy Mills, Get Rady Set Goes, Barbara’s Smile, Pure Deal, Sarah Joyce, Troublante and Willow U.

The New Jersey Hunt Cup: The $50,000 timber stakes drew 10 nominations led by last year’s winner Ebanour. He’s unbeaten in his last three including two this year. Others are Ballylifen, Carrickboy, Grinding Speed, Le Chevalier, Old Timer, Puller, Pured It, Straight To It and West Is Best.

The Gladstone: Three-year-old hurdlers get a chance to run for $50,000. Officer’s Oath, who won at Shawan, is the only winner among the 10 nominations including Awesome Adrian, Cuba Libre, Don’t Make Me Cry, Invocation, Mythmaker, Popcastle, Tir Na Nog, Trappe Hill Road, Serilda. French-bred Invocation has run five times over hurdles in England and finished second three times.

Entries close Monday.