Here we are. After not happening in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and keeping tens of thousands of tailgaters at home, the Far Hills Races return Saturday. It’s the 100th running, so Happy Birthday or something but welcome back to the biggest meet on the National Steeplechase Association circuit.

Far Hills serves up the right mix of course condition, prize money, competition level, spectator attention and even added pari-mutuel wagering a few years ago. This year blends in live coverage on Fox Sports 2 as part of the America’s Day at the Races program produced by the New York Racing Association so – even if Covid canceled last year and blasted the purse structure to $400,000 from $850,000 in 2019 – man it’s good to see Far Hills on the schedule.

The TIHR team tries to help your wagering with some picks. If you’re keeping score at home, Joe and Sean had five winners each last week while Tom had three. At Foxfield the previous week, Sean had three while Joe and Tom had two. The race for the autumn championship goes Joe (11), Sean (11), Tom (6).

Post time Saturday is 1:20 p.m. There are six races. You can watch the first three (at least) on Fox Sports 2 and bet on your favorite ADW platform including The Saratoga Special advertiser NYRA Bets.

First race. $50,000 Harry Harris 4-year-old hurdle stakes going 2 1/8 miles. This drew seven, led by winners Bogey’s Image, Mr. Sarinana, Bassmatchi and Historic Heart. Maidens Turbo Drive, Queens Empire and Homerhayes also join in. On form, Irish-bred Historic Heart towers over the group with 11 starts, three wins, two seconds and a third. All were over England’s hurdles, which don’t offer the same jumping test as the American National Fence. He’s been schooling at home for trainer Keri Brion and will be tough to handle if he adapts. Bassmatchi won over hurdles in France in March, and was fourth in the William Entenmann novice at Belmont Park. Trainer Leslie Young adds Lasix. Bogey’s Image won nicely at Shawan in September. Queens Empire was second in another division of the Shawan maiden and should prefer a stamina test like Far Hills. The son of Empire Maker and Royal Delta’s sister Crown Queen looked strong coming up the hill at Jack Fisher’s Wednesday.

Joe: Queens Empire, Historic Heart, Bassmatchi.
Tom: Historic Heart, Queens Empire, Bassmatchi.
Sean: Historic Heart, Bassmatchi, Queens Empire.

Second race. $75,000 Foxbrook Champion hurdle going 2 1/2 miles. The novice (non-winners before March 1, 2020 or non-winners of three other than 3-year-old). Six signed on for a race won by the likes of McDynamo, Lonesome Glory, Scorpiancer, Sur La Tete and Snap Decision. Recent Irish import Druid’s Altar makes his American debut for Hyggelig Haven (Michael Lund Petersen of Gamine fame) and trainer Willie Dowling. The 4-year-old Mastercraftsman gelding won twice over hurdles and three times over chase fences in Ireland for trainer Joseph O’Brien including a 15-length romp at Wexford in September. Irish champion Davy Russell comes over the ride. Druid’s Altar will be a difficult question for the others if not wrung out from 10 starts so far this year. Ritzy A.P. dominated the Entenmann, but will get a jumping test for the streaking Neil Morris barn. The 7-year-old English Channel horse (not a gelding) brings plenty of flat ability. Can he relax, jump well and fire late? West Newton looked good while winning at Shawan. Skyler McKenna held him up and made one run, which worked to perfection in a handicap hurdle. He gets a tougher test. French Light makes his ninth start of 2021, and adds blinkers after finishing third behind Foxbrook runners Ritzy A.P. and Booby Trap in the Entenmann. Booby Trap could further reward owners Tom Rice and Van Cushny for a $4,500 claim last year as the 5-year-old Hard Spun gelding seeks his third win over jumps. He’s earned $70,500 so far and was a good second to Ritzy A.P. last time. City Dreamer runs in the Foxbrook for the third time and leads the field with 21 starts over hurdles. He’ll need to get the right setup – fast in front of him – but exits two decent starts at Saratoga when second in a novice (after The Mean Queen threw away the race, and her jockey, late) and fourth in the Grade 1 Jonathan Sheppard. Competitive as usual.

Joe: Ritzy A.P., Booby Trap, City Dreamer.
Tom: Ritzy A.P., Druid’s Altar, City Dreamer.
Sean: Druid's Altar, Ritzy A. P., Booby Trap.

Third race. $150,000 American Grand National hurdle stakes going 2 5/8 miles. The big one. It’s not worth $400,000 like it was two years ago – which might actually be a positive given the circumstances – but provides a fitting showdown for championship hopefuls The Mean Queen and Snap Decision. She’s risen up the ladder from maiden to Grade 1 winner since April. He’s won two major stakes (make the Temple Gwathmey a Grade 1 already) this year and tied a record with his ninth consecutive win in the Grade 1 Iroquois. The Mean Queen won the first round, hanging a 2-length defeat on Snap Decision in the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory at Belmont last month. He’d have been odds-on in this race last year, if it happened, and won the Foxbrook over the course in 2019. He had a right to be a little short at Belmont, but no excuses this time. Here’s hoping they hook up again and it’s a cracker to decide the Eclipse Award. You can read about them here. Amschel adds blinkers and takes a shot after chasing Snap Decision in the Gwathmey and the Iroquois and settling for fourth in the Lonesome Glory. Trainer Cyril Murphy, who won this as a jockey in 2001 and as a trainer in 2015 and 2016, adds blinkers and hopes for an upset. The race’s fourth runner, Irish raider Chosen Mate, bids to give trainer Gordon Elliott his second American Grand National (after winning in 2018 with Jury Duty) and some redemption in his first U.S. race since serving a six-month suspension handed down by Irish authorities when a photo of Elliott sitting on a horse who died while training surfaced on the internet. Purchased by American owner Ben Griswold IV, Chosen Mate has won four in England/Ireland including the 2020 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual chase at the Cheltenham Festival. It’s been tougher sledding since as the 8-year-old has lost seven in a row. He’ll handle the jumping, like the trip and gets Lasix for the first time in a race. Russell takes the ride.

Joe: Snap Decision, The Mean Queen, Amschel.
Tom: Snap Decision, The Mean Queen, Amschel.
Sean: Snap Decision, The Mean Queen, Chosen Mate.

Fourth race. $50,000 Appleton Handicap (horses rated 130 and below) going 2 5/8 miles. Six make up the field for a race that fits on a card like Far Hills. Wish there were more horses for things like this so the sport could cultivate a proper second division. Someday. If you want some fun, ask somebody who knows about the 1998 running when Approaching Squall and Hudson Bay slugged it out for pretty much the entire trip. Recent import Ya Boy Ya leads the group with a 130 rating from Ireland. He’s won three of his last six with two seconds and a third. It’ll be quick though so he better bring his track shoes. Galway Kid (129) needs to bounce back to his spring form, when he won the David Semmes at Great Meadow. Maybe adding Lasix will help, but his last three were awful. He worked with The Mean Queen Wednesday. Recent Revelations (121) drops to a handicap after trying the Grade 1 Jonathan Sheppard at Saratoga. Mighty Mark (120) has won three in a row, but faces a far tougher group this time. Presence Of Mind (118) should move forward off the run at Shawan when third behind West Newton. Cite (117) struggled in the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga, but might finally be getting to his best after missing last year entirely. He was second to Iranistan in a flat prep at Foxfield Oct. 3 and looked sharp while working with Snap Decision Wednesday.

Joe: Presence Of Mind, Cite, Ya Boy Ya.
Tom: Ya Boy Ya,, Cite, Presence Of Mind.
Sean: Recent Revelations, Ya Boy Ya, Presence Of Mind.

Fifth race. $30,000 Gladstone 3-year-olds hurdle stakes going 2 1/8 miles. Eight signed on here, and seven will have to be ready to handle Griswold/Elliott/Russell runner Realist. The English-bred son of Camelot won at Down Royal in August and finished second at Listowel in September. The Young barn counters with two – French hurdle winner Fast Vision and Irish import Project Two, who placed in two hurdle starts at Roscommon and Ballinrobe six days apart in August. Trainer Keri Brion unveils Irish-bred Parish Delight for his debut off four Irish flat runs. The Americans include Shawan winner Circus, a $30,000 Fasig-Tipton horses-in-training purchase for local owner The Fields Stable. Ghostlighter, a $50,000 buy at the same sale, finished a distant fifth at Shawan but was probably aiming for this from the beginning. Fog Bound, third at Shawan, is out of a half-sister to hurdle/timber stakes winner Schoodic. Elusive lost his jockey early at Shawan, after three flat tries.

Joe: Realist, Fast Vision, Ghostlighter.
Tom: Realist, Circus, Fast Vision.
Sean: Realist, Fast Vision, Project Two.

Sixth race. $50,000 Peapack filly/mare hurdle stakes going 2 1/8 miles. Just four runners, but that’s what you get with the distaff jumper sometimes. The Mean Queen would lap this group, but that doesn’t mean they can’t put a show. Screen Image and Down Royal were 1-2 at Colonial Downs, with the latter getting the nod after a medication violation. Down Royal has been consistent – with three wins, six seconds and two thirds in 16 jump starts for Kate and Bernie Dalton. This year, she won an open handicap hurdle (115 and below) at Charlotte, finished second to The Mean Queen at the Iroquois and won the Randy Rouse thanks to Screen Image’s drug test – all since coming off Lasix.

Joe: Down Royal, Screen Image, Eve’s City.
Tom: Down Royal, Screen Image, Speed Alert.
Sean: Down Royal, Screen Image, Speed Alert. 

Stats Book
The NSA leaderboard tightened up considerably over the last two weeks. Among the trainers, Leslie Young and Neil Morris (who won three at Virginia Fall) have 12 and lead Jack Fisher (11) and Keri Brion (nine). Kathy Neilson rounds out the top five with eight wins. Jockeys Tom Garner and Graham Watters (15 each) show the way over Skylar McKenna (11). The Eclipse Award vote decides the overall horse championship but the earnings race goes The Mean Queen ($213,000), Snap Decision ($132,000). Saturday's Grand National is worth $90,000 to the winner.