Tendon injury keeps Zanjabeel out of Grand National

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Zanjabeel, the leading steeplechaser in North America, will miss Saturday’s Grade 1 American Grand National at Far Hills, N.J. with a tendon injury – leaving the race without its biggest name and causing trainer Ricky Hendriks to look for answers.

“They say everything happens for a reason, but I don’t know what the reason is yet,” Hendriks said Monday evening. “It’s a tough one to take. One of my dreams is to train an Eclipse Award winner and he was my best shot.”

Ever. The 5-year-old, owned by Rosbrian Farm and Meadow Run Farm, leads all North American jumpers in earnings this year with $265,500 and can still win an Eclipse though a Grand National win would have left no doubt. The English-bred son of Aussie Rules opened his 2018 campaign with back-to-back seconds in stakes company, then dominated the Grade 1 Iroquois in May going 3 miles. Put away for the summer, Zanjabeel prepped for the $450,000 Grand National with another Grade 1 win in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park Sept. 20 and has been training steadily since.

Friday, a Hendriks staffer noticed a tendon issue and a scan revealed a minor tear. The bay gelding will miss six months to a year.

“It’s not bad, so he should be able to come back but that’s still tough news to get,” the trainer said. “Everything was doing fine. He was just ticking over. We hadn’t worked him (since Belmont) or anything. We were going to give him one more piece of work this week and then head for Far Hills.”

The Grand National, the richest steeplechase in North America and the year’s final Grade 1, drew a field of nine including foreign-trained representatives Jaleo (a German-bred trained in England by Ben Pauling), Tornado Watch (an Irish-bred who races for Ireland’s Emmet Mullins), Hammersly Lake (a French-bred trained in England by Charlie Longsdon), Clarcam (a French-bred from trainer Gordon Elliott) and Jurty Duty (an Irish-bred from Elliott’s barn). American-trained Days Of Heaven (Jack Fisher), All The Way Jose (Jonathan Sheppard), Hinterland (Fisher) and Dawalan (Cyril Murphy) represent the home team.

The Eclipse Award could still go to Zanjabeel, though he will lose the earnings lead to whichever horse wins the Grand National (worth $270,000 to the winner). He’s the only horse to win two Grade 1 jump races this year and defeated strong fields in the Iroquois and Lonesome Glory.

“I hope he’s done enough,” said Hendriks. “We were really looking forward to running him. It’s not many times you have the best horse and you get to run him at equal weights like this and I think he was going to run well.”

Hendriks said his other stable star Optimus Prime will skip the 2 5/8-mile Grand National as well, and aim for the 2 1/8-mile Zeke Ferguson Memorial at Great Meadow Oct. 27 – though the trainer tried to talk himself into calling an audible.

“We knew when we bought him he didn’t want to go that far and we’re not going to do it,” Hendriks said. “He’s training well and we’re going to run in that race in Virginia.”

Hendriks, locked in a 15-15 tie with six-time defending champion Fisher for the leading trainer crown, entered seven at Far Hills while Fisher countered with 15.

“We’re going to do our best,” said Hendriks, a former champion jockey who has never won the training crown. “We’re going to have to be really lucky and place our horses in the right spots. It’s all like a chess match now. We’ll send four horses to Aiken (Oct. 27) and we’ll have a couple decent shots in Virginia.”

NOTES: Far Hills cards seven races worth an NSA record $900,000. The racing starts at 1 p.m. and includes a $50,000 stakes for 3-year-olds, two divisions of a $125,000 race for novice hurdlers, a $50,000 maiden, a $50,000 handicap hurdle and a $50,000 timber stakes in addition to the Grade 1 Grand National . . . The day features full pari-mutuel wagering for the first time and will be available essentially worldwide via the Monmouth Park simulcast signal . . . English/Irish National Hunt jockeys coming over for the day include Danny Mullins, Adrian Heskin, David Mullins, Brian Hughes, Jack Kennedy and Robbie Power . . . Dawalan, the Grand National and Eclipse Award winner in 2015, looks to make his first start since being pulled up in the 2017 Iroquois and just his second since November 2015.

Far Hills entries.

Far Hills Races website.