Far Hills 2022: A first look

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The Far Hills Races return Saturday. Tod Marks photo.

It’s Monday night. Entries are out. Take a look. At what you ask? Far Hills of course. The Far Hills Races, the top steeplechase meet in the United States, goes to the post Saturday in New Jersey. Seven races, big purses, bigger crowd, wagering, live television, international runners, you name it.

So here’s an early, real early, look. Start at the beginning.

The first race is a $50,000 hurdle stakes, the Harry Harris, for 4-year-olds. Six were entered and they go 2 1/8 miles. Proven Innocent will take some beating. He’s won his last two for trainer Jack Fisher and jockey Jamie Bargary, getting up in the final yards in a Saratoga allowance and an Aqueduct novice. He beat 2021 jump champion The Mean Queen in the latter while adding another layer to a world-class pedigree. He shoulders 157 pounds and can add to an already stellar rookie year over jumps. The son of Blame won a turf maiden at Belmont Park in September 2021, his final start for breeder Stuart Janney III and trainer Shug McGaughey, finished fourth in his hurdle debut in April, won at the Iroquois, finished a troubled second at Saratoga, then won his next two. That’s 3-for-5 with a second and $125,100 earned. He will have to outrun Who’s Counting, Ljay, Project Two, Spring Heeled Jim and Tease and Seize.

The second, a $50,000 hurdle stakes for 3-year-olds called the Gladstone, is probably gift-wrapped for Irish raider The Insider, twice a winner in three starts already this year. He takes on Shawan Downs winner Fleeting Atte.

The third, the $75,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle novice stakes, came up with six. Proven Innocent would look tough here, but leaves it to recent maiden winner Awakened from the Fisher barn. Irish visitor Ted Hastings has won his last three, two over hurdles and one on the flat. The latter came Sept. 28, so he’s sharp. America counters with Saratoga winner Howyabud, third behind Proven Innocent at Aqueduct, plus Baltimore Kid, Decisive Triumph, Booby Trap and the aforementioned Awakened. Advantage Ted.

The fourth, the $50,000 Appleton handicap hurdle, will give everyone an early look at the 2 5/8-mile trip of the featured American Grand National two races later. Theocrat will be tough to handle off a win at Saratoga. He shares top weight (and 130 rating) with Irish horse Soviet Pimpernel, who has won twice over hurdles but not since 2019. Grey Falcon, Redicean, Scorpion’s Revenge, Fightinrishtabit and Senor Seville fill out a field with an 18-pound spread.

The fifth, the $100,000 John Forbes Memorial, showcases something a little different in a 2-mile open flat stakes. Graded winner Cross Border steps in, along with some others from the flat world such as the Greg Sacco-trained duo of Oceans Map and Basso. Fearsome won a similar race, going 1 1/2 miles, here in 2019. Clubbing exits a maiden win at Kentucky Downs for McGaughey, but joins the barn of Leslie Young. The big field of 14 will create some traffic, as will a mixed bag of jockeys including Isaac Castillo, Nik Juarez and Feargal Lynch from the flat world. In addition to Sacco, flat trainers Kent Sweezey (Small Hope) and Michael Dickinson (Royne) entered runners. The also-eligible list goes four deep. Take a moment to remember Forbes, a trainer and a leader for decades in New Jersey.

Here we go. The sixth is the $250,000 American Grand National. Nine entered the 2 5/8-mile Grade 1. The Mean Queen, sidelined again after finishing second at Aqueduct, will miss the potential rematch with Snap Decision but it’s still some race. Snap Decision gets away from the handicapper as everyone carries 156 pounds (that’s 12 less than he shouldered when second at Aqueduct). The 8-year-old Fisher trainee seeks his third Grade 1 of 2022 after winning the Iroquois and the Jonathan Sheppard. Graham Watters takes the return ride. Noah And The Ark pulled a major upset over the favorite at Aqueduct while in receipt of 28 pounds. Can the Irish-bred do it again for trainer Todd McKenna at level weights? Irish trainer Shark Hanlon brings Hewick over for the international try. The 7-year-old has won three hurdle races and four more over chase fences including the Galway Plate in late July. That effort will suit him well, the sloppy jump that unseated Jordan Gainford in the Kerry National in September won’t. English trainer Ben Pauling comes over with 10-year-old Global Citizen, a four-time winner over hurdles to go with two chase wins. He won the Johnny Henderson handicap chase  in heavy going at Cheltenham in March. He’ll need to be quick. Pistol Whipped returns for Young and will appreciate the addition of Lasix. Veteran Moscato gives Fisher a second entry. Ask Paddington ran well when third at Aqueduct, but couldn’t get past Snap Decision while in receipt of 22 pounds. Belfast Banter and Song For Someone (fourth at Aqueduct) also have ground to make up against the favorite. We’ve got days so feel free to ponder the race flow. Pistol Whipped made the running at the Iroquois. Snap Decision wound up in front in the Sheppard romp and again at Aqueduct, but would be better served getting some cover early. If I were riding the favorite, and I’m not, I’d break off in mid-pack and pick it up on the final run down the backside. Noah And The Ark wants to rate at the beginning and make that run he did at Aqueduct. He’ll be tough if he repeats that effort. Fun race. Bring it on.

And the last. The card finishes with a $50,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Everybody wants to win at Far Hills. Uco Valley was second at Shawan. Cool Jet did the same at Foxfield. Pure Courage finished third in his debut at Shawan. Parish Delight was second over the course last year and was second twice this spring.

Full entries available here. Scratches are Wednesday so look for past performances then.

Side Notes: Bargary (who tripled Saturday at Virginia Fall and has won 11 races since mid-August) has five jump mounts while trying to get into the race for the jockeys’ championship. Parker Hendriks leads with 19 wins. Bargary and Tom Garner are tied for second with 12 . . . National Hunt jockeys Davy Russell, Danny Mullins, Nico DeBoinville. Jordan Gainford and Kielan Woods come over for rides . . . Young leads the trainers’ list with 27 wins, four more than Keri Brion . . . The Grand National winner’s share of $150,000 would give Snap Decision $792,900 in U.S. steeplechase earnings, a figure reached by only five horses . . . Post time for the first is 12:50 p.m. Far Hills will be part of the America’s Day at the Races show on Fox Sports 1 and 2. See you in TV land . . . The TIHR handicappers will be back with picks for Far Hills. At Virginia Fall and Genesee Valley Saturday, I had four winners (Welshman, Modus Operandi, Notjudginjustsayin and Andi’amu; five of my second picks won, but that doesn’t count !@#$%) to three each for Sean and Tom. The autumn standings read Joe (nine), Sean (seven), Tom (five).