Far Hills Spotlight: Veterans set for timber test

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The finale to the card is the $50,000 New Jersey Hunt Cup timber stakes and for the second straight year features a field of seven to dissect. None of the seven from 2017 are in the field but plenty of timber veterans are, including Top Man Michael and Kings Apollo out of a useful prep last time at Shawan Downs.

Grand Manan. Looks like a shadow of the star who rattled off three straight demolition jobs back in 2016 and three runner-up performances in 2017. Well-bred veteran only knows one way to do it and that’s from the tip of the sword and will certainly take them a long way. Will it be all the way? On spring form, doubtful. On old form, possible.

Top Man Michael. Here’s your deserving favorite. A winner over hurdles here as a 3-year-old, he’s become a solid timber horse, winning the Radnor Hunt Cup in the spring and running hard with champion Doc Cebu at Shawan Downs three weeks ago. Doc Cebu went north, which makes this task way easier. Another one who likes the heat, he’ll have plenty of company with Grand Manan and a few others. Stalk, pick it up with a circuit to go and pull the curtain on a banner day.

Carrickboy. Fourteen and still going strong, Irish-bred won a restricted allowance at Winterthur in the spring but that’s far shallower water than this. Has the right man at the helm in leading jockey Jack Doyle. Ricky Hendriks has been prolific this year and maybe he can pull off another miracle, but he’ll need to dig deep in his hat for a rabbit here.

Aquies. Busy this spring, he hit the board in all four starts without winning any of them and now gets equipped with blinkers. Katherine Neilson is 25 percent with this move (really!) and the equipment change might provide the impetus to threaten the top ones. Trainer is having a prolific year, especially with under-the-radar timber toppers. Not impossible.

Mystic Strike. Todd McKenna returned to the trainer ranks after a lengthy suspension, he saddles just his third starter of the year here. Veteran chased two of Saturday’s foes, Top Man Michael and Kings Apollo in the spring. Talented horse, Beecher sticks with him, right running style. Not impossible.

Two’s Company. As Jack Fisher said earlier this week, “But why not run? Far Hills has the money, they put on a good show, owners like to go there. You’ve got to run there.” Well, here’s one of Fisher’s who is following that theme as he comes back in a week after finishing third at Virginia Fall. Good effort in a hot race that day. He won two races in 14 days in 2016 so this could be in his wheelhouse.

Kings Apollo. British-bred has won two of five starts since coming here, handling Mystic Strike in an impressive score at Winterthur in May. Wound up on his back foot behind turn-on-the-faucets rumble between Doc Cebu and Top Man Michael at Shawan Downs. Those two were foot-perfect that day while today’s second choice was good but not great. Will certainly be more tuned up for this and the absence of Doc Cebu will certainly make this less edgy. Nice horse. Obvious second choice.