By Tod Marks
Sent off at 18-1, Keystone Thoroughbreds’ Noah and the Ark led a charge over the final fence to overtake Irish invaders Seddon and Salvador Ziggy, and beat back a gallant surge by Hurricana Farm’s Merry Maker to capture America’s biggest steeplechase prize, the $250,000 American Grand National (Grade 1) at 2 5/8 miles.
Ridden by Harrison Beswick for owner-trainer Todd McKenna, Noah and the Ark, the second longest shot in the field of eight, hadn’t hit the board in three Grade 1 starts this year, which came after his 41-1 victory over Snap Decision in the 2022 Lonesome Glory at Aqueduct.
But on Saturday, the nine-year-old Irish-bred son of Vinnie Roe waited patiently to move up on the final turn and out gamed two classy European runners as well as a fine field of NSA stalwarts.
From the drop of the flag, Noah and the Ark settled into fifth, where he was content to stay for the first mile. The chestnut gelding advanced to third after 2 miles, behind pacesetters Seddon (the 4-1 second choice under Ben Harvey), and odds-on choice Salvador Ziggy (Jack Kennedy).
Saving ground on the inside, Noah and the Ark chased the leaders on the final turn, and was on even terms approaching the final fence. At that point, the leaders were still in the hunt, and there was a new threat in Merry Maker, recent The Lonesome Glory winner, who loomed on the outside. Noah and the Ark, Salvador Ziggy, and Merry Maker took the last hurdle as one, with Seddon still in striking distance.
But it was Noah and the Ark who had the most left in the tank and increased his advantage heading uphill into the stretch, drawing clear by 5 1/4 lengths as much the best. Merry Maker was a game second, 10 3/4 lengths in front of Galaxy Racing Syndicate’s Seddon, who was 2 1/4 lengths better than Irv Naylor’s Scorpion’s Revenge. Salvador Ziggy faded to seventh.
Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision traveled in midpack, but was pulled up on the backside on the final circuit. He’s fine, and was among the entries to the $75,000 Zeke Ferguson Stakes at the International Gold Cup Races in Virginia on Oct. 28.
After the Grand National, trainer McKenna reflected on Noah and the Ark’s win and his star-crossed 2023 season:
“You never expect to win, let alone win the biggest race of the year. So I was as surprised as any one person could be, I even cried when I walked out onto the track which is not something I do very often.
“The goal was always Far Hills because he ran so well there last year at equal weights. Nashville was a disaster, too much atmosphere and he hated his stall that he was confined to for three days.
“Harry (jockey Beswick) thinks Noah needs a bigger track unlike Saratoga where it’s narrow. And having to walk through the crowds at Saratoga from receiving barn to holding barn and back through the crowds did not help our cause in any way.”
If all goes well, Noah and the Ark is aiming toward a 10-year-old campaign that includes the Temple Gwathney, Iroquois, and a return trip to Far Hills.
Kyogo kickstarts huge day for Elliott and Kennedy
Saturday’s Far Hills Races proved a tour de force for the Irish. Trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Jack Kennedy came stateside and took the first two hurdle races on the all-stakes card — the Gladstone for three-year-old and the Harry Harris for four-year-olds — then made it a triple with a victory in the Peapack for fillies and mares.
In the opener, it was Meadow Run Farm’s Kyogo, sent off at 3-1 in the Gladstone, who got the ball rolling by moving up from third on the final turn, grabbing the lead over the last fence and digging in to hold off Atlantic Friends Racing’s Our Boy Wes and visiting jockey Danny Mullins by three-quarters of a length. Joseph Fowler’s Southpaw Mike, with Bernie Dalton, was another four lengths back in third.
The victory was Kyogo’s second in eight starts. In his previous outing, the Irish-bred son of Ribchester took a weight-for-age hurdle at Perth.
Favored Calico romps in $50,000 Harry Harris
With 22 starts already under her belt, Del Rio Racing and Goldman Racing Syndicate’s Calico, a French-bred daughter of Spanish Moon, brought a world of experience to Saturday’s hurdle stakes restricted to four-year-olds.
And with four victories and 11 top-three finishes on her resume, Calico was sent off as the $1.60-1 favorite, and she didn’t disappoint.
With Jack Kennedy riding for Gordon Elliott, Calico took the lead at the one-mile mark, increased her margin at the final fence, and drew off by eight lengths under a hand ride.
Sharon Sheppard’s Chosen Judge, at 13-1, coming off a maiden score in his career debut at Shawan Downs last month, ran gamely under Stephen Mulqueen to be second best, seven lengths in front of the show horse, Atlantic Friends Racing’s Just Another One.
Accomplished flat runner Abaan goes from maiden to hurdle stakes winner in third start
The six-year-old son of 2013 Breeders Cup Classic and Travers winner Will Take Charge, Abaan was a Grade 3 winner of a half-million-dollars on the turf. He made his jump racing debut at Colonial Downs this summer, and proved to be a fast learner.
After finishing a close second in his first try over jumps, he broke his maiden by seven lengths in his next out at the New Kent, Va., track, for the trainer-rider team of Kate and Bernie Dalton.
The Dalton’s charge was sent off as the $1.80-1 favorite in the $100,000 Foxbrook Champion novice hurdle stake, which drew a short field of four.
With Bernie Dalton again in the saddle, Abaan was unhurried at the start, closed steadily on the final turn, and drew even with Michael A. Smith’s The Hero Next Door (Jack Kennedy) at the last fence. From there, the duo dueled uphill into the stretch, with Abaan, who is owned by Daigneault Thoroughbreds and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, drawing clear by three lengths nearing the wire.
For The Hero Next Door, trained by Leslie Young, it was the five-year-old Irish-bred’s first outing since falling in the Green Pastures novice stakes at the Iroquois Races in May, a race he was on his way to winning until his mishap at the final fence.
Say hello to Say Goodbye in $75,000 Peapack for fillies and mares
The seven-year-old made her first start outside of Ireland a winning one and, in the process gave trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Jack Kennedy their third winner of the day.
Sent off as the odds-on favorite off of two wins in her previous three starts, Say Goodbye sat closely behind pacesetter Bella Coola in the field of eight, took a slight lead heading up the backside the final time, and battled Potter Group USA and Ashwell Stable’s Right Tempo from the final fence to the wire.
It wasn’t until the pair was in deep stretch that Say Goodbye was able to edge clear, leading by 3 1/4 lengths at the finish. Right Tempo, ridden by Stephen Mulqueen, was 12 3/4 lengths ahead of Irv Naylor’s Gold Charm.
Zabeel Champion outlasts rivals to take $50,000 Appleton Handicap
It looks like Hall of Fame trainer Jack Fisher has another good one. Martin Tedham and Wasdell Properties’ Zabeel Champion made an easy transition from European racing to American steeplechasing by taking the Appleton hurdle stakes, a top-class handicap for horses rated at 130 or less.
Ridden by Bernie Dalton, the six-year-old British-bred son of Poet’s Voice entered the Appleton following a recent sixth-place finish at Foxfield in a 120 handicap, a race in which he contended until tiring in the latter stages. Before that, however, he was a nine-time winner of nearly $200,000 in England.
Sent off at 5-1, Zabeel Champion sat off the pace in the early going, making his move on the final turn, and drawing even with Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Fast Vision and Riverdee Stable’s Gordon’s Jet at the last fence.
Zabeel Champion was able to pull away from Fast Vision (Freddie Procter), as pacesetter Gordon’s Jet wilted. The margin of victory was 3 1/2 lengths over Fast Vision, who was 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean, who captured the Appleton in 2022. After the race, Sheppard said she would retire her Grade 2 winning nine-year-old star after a superb 45-race career.
McLovin scores in $100,000 Forbes turf stakes
Team Valor International, a well-known ownership group in the flat racing realm, rolled out homebred McLovin to capture the John Forbes Memorial at 2 miles.
Trained by Rodolphe Brisset and ridden by Grand National hero Harry Beswick, the five-year-old was no farther back than fourth in the field of eight for the first mile. He took the lead about a half mile later, on the second circuit, and held off a hard-charging Who’s Counting and Sean McDermott by a length. It was another dozen lengths back to Gill Johnston’s Riptide Rock.
McLovin, a son of Team Valor’s Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom, was sent off as the odds-on favorite based on a career that included 11 starts, three victories and more than $200,000 in earnings.
South Branch Equine’s Maryland-bred Who’s Counting, also trained by McDermott, is an accomplished winner over both jumps and on the flat, earning more than $200,000 along the way. Overlooked in the betting, he was sent off at 10-1.