Saturday. Far Hills Steeplechase. Finally writing about a big day for Riverdee and SWC Bloodstock. I should have banged it out from the top of the hill, the car ride home or at least Sunday morning when it was fresh and immediate. Ah well, as the great Rich Rosenbush told me many years ago, “Stop apologizing for writing – or not writing – and write.”
Riverdee and Clancy Bloodstock nearly swept the first four races, finding Peapack winner One Lucky Lady at Doncaster in May, owning The Grange to win the Harry E Harris, recruiting Jack Frost from England to finish second in the Foxbrook and plucking Dawalan from Nicky Henderson’s yard to win the Grade 1 Grand National.
No matter what you do, it’s rewarding when you do it right. In this game, it goes wrong more often than it goes right, so when it goes right, you take a deep breath and store the feeling, you’ll need it later.
Riding to the races with my 81-year-old dad, who got me in this crazy sport, we talked about racing like we’ve done from the beginning. Our car rides began in the 70s, Dad driving, me sleeping, arriving at Charles Town, Timonium, Saratoga, Foxfield, Camden, Far Hills in time to check the horses, roll some bandages and go to the races. For a kid, it was opening a new novel every weekend, I memorized the winners, the losers, critiqued them, idolized them all. Saturday, we talked about the races again, just a dad and a son sharing an interest, swapping thoughts, opinions, stories. It was a special ride up and back – even when I got lost on the way home and wound up on the New Jersey Turnpike instead of Route 202. I laughed, “Dad, you handle this much better than you used to.” He laughed, “Yeah, I’ve mellowed.” Once a Marine, always a Marine…a mellowed Marine.
Of course, owning The Grange made the day.
She traveled into the race, as the field of maidens began heading down the backside the last time and stalked in third on the turn, before splitting two rivals, popping the last and staying the course to the wire. When we ran Valdez at Cheltenham, I swore I wasn’t going to yell, unless he won. I didn’t utter a sound, as he finished fifth in the Arkle. Saturday, I didn’t make any resolutions with myself and started yelling as The Grange started climbing the hill. When she crossed the wire, I stopped and wondered how I got to where I was, way down the hill, closer to the steward’s tower than the chalkboard where I started. I looked back up the hill, there was Dad, Mark Grier, Jack Grier, John Kelley, Tom Maoli, Richard Hutchinson…I had somehow separated myself from them, running and yelling for The Grange. I climbed back up the hill, hugs all around. Mission accomplished. What a thrill.
The Grange added to a long line (well, not long enough) of Far Hills winners, starting with Red Raven in 1983-85, Abacus in ’91, Rowdy Irishman in ’97, Atomistic – oh my old friend Atomistic in ’99. The family silks won with Abacus, when my family needed a boost and got one from an over-achieving little bay gelding who somehow knew the score that day. Dictina’s Boy added an implausible victory in the rain in 2009.
Far Hills gets in your soul. In American steeplechasing, there is no place like Far Hills. Saratoga is electric, Camden offers a beginning and an end, Iroquois is a big day but Far Hills is the goal. Win there, and you did it right, the coup has come off. The Grange went from a flat horse without a future to a jump winner at Far Hills in three months – and sent me running down a hill.