Far Hills Spotlight: Wide open Appleton

- -

A dozen line up for the third race on the Far Hills Races card, the $50,000 Appleton ratings handicap hurdle and uncovering the winner could prove a difficult task. The cast includes recent last-out winners Osmoz, Indigo Heart and Wild Dynaformer, not-so-recent last-out winner Invocation, European import Winner Massagot and class droppers Mercoeur and Salix. Like we said, a tall order in 2 5/8-mile test. 

Osmoz. Enjoyed a massive class relief when dropping from novice stakes at Nashville to apprentice hurdle at Fair Hill. His 2017 handicap win at Middleburg over Lyonell makes him a big player here. It’s all or nothing, in his nine starts over hurdles, he’s won three and has been beaten double digits in all the others.

Winner Massagot. Another French-bred runner on a truly international day, 7-year-old makes his American debut after winning three times in Europe. Showed real potential when winning two quality races back in 2015, but has hit hard times since. The upside? Treated with Lasix for the first time, capable imported jockey Tom Garner takes the call, won a race by 26 lengths in September when dropping to his lowest mark of 110 (he was once 135. Downside? He’s won once in his last 12 starts. Interesting newcomer.

Dapper Dan. Pulled up after a long layoff in his fall return, but be wary of form from High Hope (Lex on chart), as the ground was deep and the trip was arduous. Wired a decent group at Parx last summer but he’s only been seen once since and that was in his aborted start at High Hope. We’ll wait, watch and hope he doesn’t burn us.

Cheers To Us. Solid first-year hurdler climbed from maiden-claiming ranks to proven handicaps at Radnor, Monmouth and High Hope. Gets weight from some of the others and could offer value on a horse who might still be improving.

Invocation. On his third trainer since coming here, French-bred actually rides a two-race win streak, including a tough Saratoga allowance, but those were last year. Enjoyed a flat prep at Foxfield, which shows sharpness. McDermott won on him at Saratoga. Live.

Curve Of Stones. Likable horse who won two races back in 2016, but he’s been riding a long losing streak since. Beaten double digits in both autumn starts. Would benefit from soft ground. Would be a shocker.

Mercoeur. Deserving high weight drops from graded stakes to a handicap for the first time in five tries and the drop could prove the oracle. Talented horse posted a decent performance in the Foxbrook last year and earned four hard checks since then. Looks primed for this.

With Rhythm. Inexplicably failed to start at Shawan Downs but notice that training flat race at Foxfield a week later, showing that he did cooperate that day. Still, just a maiden win in seven tries. Is Fisher simply throwing paint at the wall? Would be a surprise.

Indigo Heart. Heady purchase by Hendriks in his pursuit of the crown, two-time winner will find this task a lot more difficult than the apprentice hurdle at Shawan Downs. Having said that, he did it well that day, trainer is rolling and the capable Mitchell takes over.

Orchestra Leader. Gallant veteran owns seven wins in his 39-start career and posted a solid effort in a tough handicap at Iroquois in the spring. Ignore Fair Hill hiccup and take note of solid flat run in August. Will try to get in a jumping rhythm on or near the front. Not impossible.

Wild Dynaformer. Unusual career got more unusual when he woke up from a long slumber to dominate handicap horses at High Hope. Soft ground played a part in that reformation but, really, if you toss Saratoga try (too fast, too tough) and look at efforts at Monmouth, Fair Hill and Queen’s Cup, he’s got a puncher’s chance in a wide-open ring.

Salix. Purchased after back-to-back wins in England this summer, the 4-year-old failed to land a blow in his stateside debut at Saratoga. Far Hills is a world apart from Saratoga, so perhaps he finds this more to his liking. Daryl Jacob who rode him to a 2 1/2-mile win on good ground this summer told the Racing Post, “It seems that Salix is well suited by two and a half miles on this sort of ground.” We’ll see.