By Tod Marks
It was a great day for the Irish at Far Hills as TJ McDonald’s Hewick, a seven-year-old trained by John Joseph “Shark” Hanlon and ridden by Jordan Gainford, crossed the ocean to obliterate the field in the Grade 1 $250,000 Grand National at Far Hills. The margin of victory was 11 1/4 lengths, and the win kicked off a celebration loud enough to be heard back home.
A bargain-basement purchase, Hewick is known as the “People’s Champion” because of a season of remarkable exploits. Todd McKenna’s Noah and the Ark, recent upset winner of the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory at Aqueduct over Snap Decision (who finished sixth in the Grand National), proved that performance was no fluke, as he was second best, 4 1/2 lengths clear of Metahorse Racing’s Ask Paddington.
Hewick was content to sit third in the field of nine for the first 2 1/4 miles, but with three furlongs to go he took over from leader Pistol Whipped and Global Citizen, who sat in second. Turning into the stretch the final time, Hewick was in command, and cleared the final fence comfortably ahead of the rest of the field. From there, the 2-1 second choice sped uphill for the long run to the wire, proving much the best of all nine starters under a driving finish.
It’s certainly not uncommon for horses bred in Ireland to win jump races on the National Steeplechase Association circuit. But in addition to Hewick, the orange, white and green colors found the winner’s circle two additional times on Saturday with connections who came over to the U.S. specifically for the Far Hills meet. Trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Davy Russell shipped over to score twice on the card, the $50,000 Gladstone stakes with The Insider and the $75,000 Foxbrook Champion hurdle with Ted Hastings.
The only winner on the card not bred in Ireland was Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean ($50,000 Appleton Handicap), who was bred in England.
Ljay nips Who’s Counting in thriller
The International Venture and Belle Meade Jockey Club’s Ljay, coming off a sharp second in an allowance hurdle at Foxfield following a four-month layoff, prevailed in a spirited duel with South Branch Equine’s Who’s Counting in the $50,000 Harry Harris four-year-old stakes at 2 1/8 miles.
Ridden by Parker Hendriks for trainer Keri Brion, Ljay was well placed behind the pacesetter, Michael Smith’s Project Two (Tom Garner), made his move approaching the last, then edged clear in a sprint to the wire.
Who’s Counting has had a splendid season for trainer-rider Sean McDermott, with three wins, three seconds and a third in seven starts. His first win came in a maiden claimer at Middleburg Spring, and he’s gotten progressively better. In the Harris, Who’s Counting was reserved early, sought racing room while considerably behind the leaders over the last, and closed with a flourish.
Even-money favorite, Bruton-Street US’ Proven Innocent, who conquered The Mean Queen in the William Entenmann novice stakes at Aqueduct last month, made a bid outside the leader over the final fence and looked as if he’d blow by Ljay, but had to settle for third, a half length behind Who’s Counting. It was far back to the rest of the field.
The Insider goes wire to wire to dominate Gladstone
Talk about “inside” information. Punters who picked Kenny Haughey’s The Insider in the $50,000 Gladstone Stakes for three-year-old hurdlers were shrewd enough to know a good thing even though they probably never saw him run.
Bet down to even money and making his first start outside of his native Ireland, the son of Australian sire Elazaam and grandson of the magnificent seven-time Group 1 winner Montjeu, ran more like a 1-10 shot, streaking wire to wire in the 2 1/8-mile showcase for stars of tomorrow.
No doubt bet down in part to his formidable connections — trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Davy Russell — The Insider broke on top and never looked back, increasing his margin at every call, crossing the wire 17 1/4 lengths ahead of Michael Smith’s Hoffman. Kudos to the runner-up, who ran an impressive race himself under Tom Garner for trainer Leslie Young, sitting in second the entire journey and maintaining an 11 3/4-length advantage over the show horse, Ciarrai Bloodstock’s recent maiden winner Fleeting Atte, trained and ridden by Sean McDermott.
The Insider’s win was reminiscent of the 2021 Gladstone when Elliott and Russell stormed the shores with another dominant performer in Realist, who scored by 28 lengths that day in similar fashion.
Elliott, Russell strike again in Foxbrook
Immediately after the runaway win by The Insider in the Gladstone, the duo struck again in the $75,000 Foxbrook Champion hurdle novice stakes with Aidan Ryan’s Ted Hastings. But it wasn’t a cakewalk.
Coming into the Foxbrook riding a four-race win streak in Scotland and Ireland, the six-year old was made the slight 2-1 favorite over Riverdee Stable’s Awakened, who was on his own two-race skein, and Irv Naylor’s Howyabud, the Jonathan Kiser novice stakes victor in Saratoga over the summer.
With Holwood Stable’s Decisive Triumph assuming the lead, as is his custom, Ted Hastings was content to lay off the pace in fourth or fifth for the first mile and a half of the 2 1/2-mile event.
Entering the far turn the final time, Van Cushny and Thomas Rice’s Booby Trap and Sean Flanagan launched their bid, as did Howyabud and Barry Foley. But Ted Hastings was on the move, too. Howyabud assumed command going over the last, with Ted Hastings closing the gap on his outside flank.
From there, the duo dueled uphill and into the stretch, battling head to head until Ted Hastings gradually wore down his gallant foe to prevail by three-quarters of a length. Booby Trap held for third, 8 1/4 lengths behind the winner.
Redicean finds his sweet spot in Appleton
Since coming over from England in 2019, Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean has taken on all comers in the toughest NSA competition.
He’s raced in 10 Grade 1s, and while he’s come close — especially in the 2020 New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga — he could quite conquer the summit.
But the eight-year-old English-bred son of Medicean found his niche at Far Hills in the $50,000 Appleton Stakes, a high-class handicap for horses rated at 130 or less at the Grand National distance of 2 5/8 miles.
With new rider Sean Flanagan aboard for leading trainer Leslie Young, Redicean was well placed from the break, settling in second or third in the six-horse field.
The pacesetter and $1.20-1 favorite, Atlantic Friends Racing’s Theocrat, maintained an easy lead, scooting clear by as much as eight lengths at one point, and didn’t appear as if he’d be seriously challenged.
But everything changed nearing the final hurdle. Del Rio Racing’s Soviet Pimpernel, another Elliott/Russell juggernaut and the second choice in the betting, moved into contention on Theocrat’s outside, while Redicean inched up on the extreme inside.
At the fence, Theocrat and Parker Hendriks ducked in on the approach, jumping awkwardly. Hendriks did a remarkable job staying on his mount and remaining in contention. But Redicean saw the opportunity and surged past his foe, drawing away in the stretch to win by 4 lengths. Theocrat was another 7 3/4 lengths ahead of Soviet Pimpernel, who flattened out.
Redicean’s win gave him 10 victories in 40 lifetime starts, and elevated his earnings to more than $346,000
Agitare pulls 19-1 shocker in inaugural Forbes
In a scene reminiscent of an old Western movie, 14 horses lined up for the start of the inaugural $100,000 John Forbes flat stakes, charging for position or simply looking to stay out of traffic as soon as the flag was dropped.
Breaking quickest of all was the Greg Sacco-trained Basso, under jockey Nik Juarez, all competitors on the Mid-Atlantic flat circuit. Basso, sent off at 30-1 in the 2-mile race, maintained his advantage until the stretch run. That’s when Bernie Dalton asked Agitare, who sat in second despite having to check early and being hard to handle, took aim. Though the pair exchanged bumps, Dalton had more horse and drew off easily to triumph by 4 3/4 lengths.
The race favorite, Three Diamonds Farm’s Cross Border, a millionaire stakes winner on the flat making his first start at an NSA hunt meet, ran a solid race, finishing a head behind Basso.
Agitare is owned by Paul and Molly Willis, CFC Stables, Danny Kelly, Sheila Kelly, and L5 Racing. Keri Brion trained both the winner and Cross Border.
The race honored the late John Forbes, a fixture at Monmouth Park for 40 years as a trainer and a past president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.
Cool Jet breaks maiden in finale
Riverdee Stable’s Cool Jet, making his second NSA start after seven trips to the post overseas, settled early, launched his bid on the final turn, then zoomed clear past the final fence to take the rich $50,000 Sport of Kings maiden hurdle by 2 1/4 lengths over Gill Johnston’s Pure Courage, a recent convert to jump racing. Bruton Street-US’ Neotropic, a four-year-old son of Tapit making his first effort over hurdles following a flat career, was third.
Trained by Hall of Famer Jack Fisher and ridden by Graham Watters, Cool Jet took the lead with about three furlongs to go. Heading over the final fence, Cool Jump dueled Potter Group USA’s Uco Valley, who finished ahead of Pure Courage last month at Shawan Downs. Looming closely behind the pair was Maranto Manor’s 2-1 favorite Beowulf, ridden by Danny Mullins and trained by Willie Dowling.
Heading uphill after the last, both Beowulf and Uco Valley, with Tom Garner in the saddle for Leslie Young, began to tire, and that’s when Pure Courage, with Sean McDermott, riding for Todd Wyatt, and Neotropic, another Fisher trainee, piloted by Jamie Bargary, closed the gap, while racing wide.
At the wire, Pure Courage secured the place spot, 2 1/2 lengths clear of Neotropic.
Full results can be found here: https://nationalsteeplechase.com/racing/
A full replay of the day of racing can be watched here: https://farhillsrace.org/national-steeplechase-association/