Far Hills Spotlight: Foxbrook No. 1 pits tough group

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In a good sign, Far Hills split the Foxbrook novice hurdle into two divisions worth $125,000 each. The race, then worth $75,000 a division, was also divided in 2013 so it’s not unprecedented but it matters. Kudos to the race meet and to the horsemen. On paper, this is the deeper of the two with stakes winners Surprising Soul and Boss Man leading the way. Tactics and pace will matter as the favorites both like to race up front. Weight will matter too as Surprising Soul totes 162. That’s 20 more than City Dreamer.

Surprising Soul: Six-year-old won three in a row to start 2017, then lost (ugly) in four straight tries. Trainer Ricky Hendriks vowed to do something different in 2018 and he’s come through with a lighter schedule and a perfect 2-for-2 record with stakes wins at Radnor and Saratoga. Success means he’ll carry 162 and give away 6-20 to serious horses.

City Dreamer: Twice a winner last year, 4-year-old finished fifth (beaten 4 lengths by Boss Man) in U.S. debut at Belmont Park Sept. 20. Gets 20 (yes, 20) pounds from Surprising Soul and should step forward off the Belmont race as it was his first start since May. Distance (2 1/2 miles) is a question as he was a 2-miler in England. Worth a long look.

Belisarius: Owned by the familiar (to flat racing) team of Gary Barber, Brous Stable and Wachtel Stable, the 7-year-old Montjeu gelding won five on the flat in Ireland and California. Over jumps, he’s made the top three in all four starts including a win at Monmouth Park in August. Couldn’t handle Boss Man in April. Gets another chance.

Bobabout: Five-year-old Irish import has only run twice in the U.S. – a blah effort at Saratoga last summer and a much better second to Surprising Soul at Radnor in May. Son of Big Bad Bob (of Bob Le Beau fame) will need that second effort and more to compete here.

Boss Man: The 8-year-old rocket ship of a steeplechase career continues to climb. Pulled up in his debut in April, he’s won three of four since for Monmouth Park-based trainer Arch Kingsley. Squarely the horse to beat, though he’ll have company on the front end. Kingsley says the son of English Channel (who’s having a great year as a sire) can rate but we’ll see. The 2 1/2 miles will be a test. So will competition. Hard to toss but you may have to take a stand against deserving favorite.

Pik Em: Back-to-back lopsided wins (albeit against far weaker) and a 145-pound weight assignment earned 4-year-old a stakes assignment for trainer Jack Fisher. Son of Tapit cost $350,000 as a yearling, but won just once on the flat. Pace up front might help, but this is big step up.

Veneer Of Charm: Does the name Zanjabeel mean anything to you? Gordon Elliott won this with a relatively unexposed 4-year-old Irish raider last year, then sold him to Ricky Hendriks and the horse went on to win two Grade 1 stakes. Hendriks got this guy early, and he looks the part off two wins in eight jump starts. Son of Fast Company upset the Winter Juvenile Handicap at Cheltenham in March and tuned up for this by running twice in Ireland in September.

Mutasaawy: Tapit gelding, a three-time winner over hurdles, just hasn’t taken the big step forward, yet. Second to New Member at Saratoga in July was good, but then couldn’t get within 10 lengths of Surprising Soul next time. Must improve jumping for new jockey Barry Foley. Mikey Mitchell sticks with Boss Man this time.

Notjudginjustsayin: Late spring maiden winner skipped Saratoga and a got a solid tightener in allowance company at Shawan Downs late last month. Gives away experience, but gets weight and might be this good someday. Perhaps today.