Jack Fisher will give you a deadpan answer to just about any question. Sometimes, the trainer is serious. Other times, he’s about to laugh in your ear. So let’s get this out of the way at the start.
“Moscato and Scorpiancer, Scorpiancer and Moscato, 1-2,” he replied when asked about the chances of his two entrants in the Grade 1 American Grand National hurdle stakes at Far Hills Saturday. “I wasn’t disappointed with either of them at Belmont. It’s very simple, because we use Grade 1s as preps all the time. I was fine with Belmont.”
And, uh . . . the natives were fine with Columbus.
Owned by Bruton Street-US, Fisher’s runners were the two best American hurdle horses of the spring. Moscato won the Temple Gwathmey off a long layoff and was in the midst of launching a winning move in the Iroquois when he got stopped before rallying for third a length behind Scorpiancer and a nose behind runner-up Surprising Soul. That day, Scorpiancer prevailed after pulling up in the Gwathmey.
Fisher gave both horses a summer break, and they re-emerged for the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park Sept. 19 and ran like they’d spent the summer eating hot dogs at Coney Island. Scorpiancer was fifth, beaten 8 1/2 lengths by Surprising Soul. Sent off as the 3-1 second choice, Moscato was never in contention and wound up eighth – beaten 11 lengths.
Can they bounce back in the $450,000 feature on a jam-packed card at Far Hills? Sure they can, but they’ll have to do against a deep group that includes foreign raiders including millionaire Wicklow Brave from the barn of Willie Mullins, 2018 race winner Jury Duty and Grade 1 novice winner The Storyteller from Gordon Elliott’s yard, Grade 2 hurdle winner Brain Power from Nicky Henderson plus recent imports The Holy One and Rashaan, the aforementioned Surprising Soul, Saratoga novice winner Redicean, talented 5-year-old Iranistan and veteran Modem.
The Iroquois versions of Fisher’s horses will have to show up to contend in the 2 5/8-mile race, the sixth of seven in a program worth $850,000. Like last year, Far Hills will offer full pari-mutuel wagering on site and via various simulcast hosts and account-wagering providers. Post time for the first is 1 p.m.
Ten-year-old Scorpiancer won an Eclipse Award as champion steeplechaser in 2017, where his only starts were wins in the Gwathemy and Iroquois. In 2016, the Irish-bred son of Scorpion finished second to Rawnaq in the Grand National. In 2015, he won the Foxbrook novice over the course.
Eight-year-old Moscato has never run at Far Hills, but was being aimed for the 2017 Grand National as a novice when he was scratched the week of the race with an injury. After winning four of six that season, he missed 2018 and returned with a thrashing of nine others going 2 1/2 miles in the Gwathmey. Next came the 3-mile Iroquois and the gray English-bred son of Hernando looked like a winner at the top of the stretch, before an inside path closed and he had to shift out to launch a too-little-too-late bid. He was moving best of all by the finish, but settled for third.
Then came the blah Belmont try, for both horses, and now they’re aiming for the big one. Fisher has salted away the National Steeplechase Association training championship with 30 wins, but has a chance at the record of 39. He’d love to add an Eclipse Award winner to the list of achievements and a win by either horse might do it.
“I don’t understand what happened at Belmont,” he said. “It’s a prep for this, sort of, but I thought they’d both run better than they did. Scorpiancer I wasn’t that disappointed in. I thought Moscato would run better. I don’t have a clue what happened. I think they ought to run well this time. Whether they win or not, I don’t know. It’s a good race, a better race than last year. It’s a proper race.”
And he’s not joking about that.
The Grand National runners lead 14 Fisher trainees in the program Saturday. The regiment will take require three trucks/trailers to transport, and they will all figure in any pre-race discussions.
First race. $50,000 Gladstone hurdle for 3-year-olds. A half-brother to hurdle and now timber stakes winner Schoodic, Elfitz won the 3-year-old maiden at Shawan for owner/breeder Edie Dixon. Bob LaPenta’s Fast Car was fourth in that race and should improve. A $625,000 yearling purchase who didn’t pan out as a flat horse, the son of Verrazano moved to Fisher’s care this summer and won on the flat at Colonial Downs. “They had Ice It, and they saw him make $300,000 (over jumps),” said Fisher about LaPenta, whose flat stable has included Catholic Boy, Coal Front, War Pass, Dialed In and other big names. “Hopefully, this is the first of many. We should encourage more of that.”
Second race. $75,000 Harry E. Harris hurdle 4-year-olds. Fisher’s has Fair Hill winner Our Legend, Colonial Downs winner Knockholt and four-time English winner Cracker Factory in a field of nine. Like the Grand National runners, Cracker Factory disappointed when sixth in the Entenmann at Belmont, but leads the field in terms of achievement with four wins and two seconds (all last year) with trainer Alan King in England. “I think he’s better than that,” Fisher said. “The 160 (pounds) doesn’t bother me. If I ran him in the novice race, it’s a tougher spot. I don’t think giving away six pounds is a problem. I need him to run as well he can.”
Third race. $75,000 Peapack hurdle for fillies/mares. A rare race without a Fisher runner.
Fourth race. $100,000 Foxbrook Champion novice hurdle. Snap Decision rates the solid favorite off his three consecutive wins – maiden, allowance, novice stakes – but gets another stiff test. Challengers include two from the Fisher barn, Iroquois novice winner City Dreamer and Camden allowance winner Storm Team. “I think he’s as good as ever,” Fisher said of Snap Decision. “It’s a tougher race, obviously, but he’s good.”
Fifth race. $50,000 New Jersey Hunt Cup turf stakes. Far Hills used to have a flat race on the card, but it was nothing like this heat, which would look good at Keeneland or Belmont. Eleven entered including Surprise Twist from flat trainer Arnaud Delacour. Fisher runs Lunaire, a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Sadler’s Joy, for Woodslane Farm. The 5-year-old joined the squad in September and has been banging heads with rugged New York allowance turf horses for two seasons. “I just got him (in September),” Fisher said of the three-time winner, who finished in front of Snap Decision in a flat race last fall. “I told them they ought to run that horse in here because it might be easier than another race at Belmont. It looks like it came up pretty tough.”
Sixth race. Grand National. See above.
Seventh race. $50,000 Appleton handicap hurdle stakes. Fisher runs three in the finale, restricted to horses rated 130 and below. The number lets Grade 1 winner All The Way Jose in, but he’s lost 12 in a row going back two years. Fisher runs Shawan winner Pik Em, the off-the-bench Kremlin and Irish-bred Peppay Le Pugh. They fit in a race with no standouts.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if any one of them wins, they could all win,” he said in a comment that started out about his horses in the seventh but basically covered all of the day’s runners. “I guess I’d be surprised by a few, but I wouldn’t be shocked.”