By Tod Marks
Steeplechase racing’s seminal day features an all-stakes seven-race card and
$675,000 in prize money. The races will be broadcast nationally on America’s Day at the Races on Fox Sports. First race post time is 12:50 p.m.
They don’t call the Far Hills Races steeplechasing’s championship day for nothing, and this year there’s little doubt that titles will be won or lost on Saturday at Moorland Farm in the bucolic borough in Somerset County, N.J. And that includes the biggest prize of all: the Eclipse Award.
The Grade 1 $250,000 American Grand National at 2 ⅝ miles, centerpiece of Saturday’s event and the sixth race on the program, has drawn a prospective field of eight. Unlike three of the other four Grade 1s that have been contested this year, the Grand National is not a handicap; it will be run at level weights, so it’s a fair fight to the finish. All starters carry 156 pounds.
Only one of the previous 2023 Grade 1 winners is in the field, Hurricana Farm’s lightly raced Merry Maker, who captured the Lonesome Glory at Aqueduct last month.
As for the other G1 winners, the European connections of Iroquois star, Scaramanga, who denied Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision a three-peat in the event, had contemplated a return to the States, but the horse had only one start since his trip to Nashville in May, finishing 13th in a handicap at Galway in July. Irv Naylor’s Belfast Banter, 17-1 upset winner of the AP Smithwick at Saratoga, suffered an injury; and Riverdee Stable and Ten Strike Racing’s Awakened, who remains eligible to compete in novice competition, has opted to go in the $100,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle, which has drawn a small field of five.
Another Irish star, Shark Hanlon’s Hewick, the defending Grand National winner, won’t make the trip across the Atlantic either, and instead will point toward a start in December as a prep for the world’s most prestigious jump race, the Cheltenham Gold Cup in England in March. Hewick earned the 2022 Eclipse Award off of his blowout victory in that single U.S. effort.
Despite the defections, Saturday’s Grand National, with its substantial purse and title implications, has attracted the attention of accomplished hurdlers, up-and-coming hopefuls, and classy European jumpers.
The Euros include Galaxy Horse Racing Syndicate’s 10-year-old two-time Cheltenham winner Seddon, trained by John McConnell and ridden by Ben Harvey, who makes his first National Steeplechase Association appearance. Also returning is McConnell’s fellow Irish conditioner Gordon Elliott, always a major player at Far Hills, who has shipped over four runners including William and Aisling Hurley’s Salvador Ziggy for the Grand National. Elliott stable jockey Jack Kennedy has the mount. Kennedy, a 10-time winner at Cheltenham, has two victories in two previous appearances at Far Hills. This is his first time back since 2018.
Trainer McConnell told the UK’s RacingTV earlier this week that Seddon has been the syndicate’s “horse of a lifetime.”
“He jumps very well whether it is hurdles and fences so I don’t think that will be a problem and nice ground and the trip will be OK. I suppose it all depends on how he settles in but we’re very hopeful…Ben rides him and he’s looking forward to it. He has never ridden over there before but he’s a good judge of pace and we wouldn’t have anyone else on him at this stage.”
Salvador Ziggy, 7, would be Elliott’s second Grand National winner; he took the 2018 edition with Jury Duty. The Irish Field reports that Salvador Ziggy has a “strong chance of success” following a solid second a month ago in the Kerry National at Listowel in Ireland. Before that, the El Salvador gelding reeled off three straight wins.
“Salvador Ziggy ran a great race in Listowel and I think this race could really suit him,” Elliott told the Irish Field. “He is an easy going sort of horse and he’ll handle the ground. He has enough pace to drop back to the trip and we’d be very hopeful of a big run.”
For Snap Decision, this will be the Hard Spun gelding’s third attempt to win the Grand National. With a victory, the Phipps-bred star would surpass the million-dollar mark in total career earnings. Compared to last year, trainer Jack Fisher has taken a less arduous path with the nine-year-old, running just three times so he’d be fresh for the Grand National, where he ran poorly in 2022 following a hard campaign in which he frequently gave away 20 pounds or more to his rivals. After winning the Temple Gwathmey in Middleburg and ﬁnishing second in the Iroquois in the spring, Fisher gave Snap Decision the summer off. He returned in the Lonesome Glory, a handicap at 2 ½ miles. After leading for most of the way, he faded at the top of the stretch to fourth while carrying 20 more pounds than upstart Merry Maker. Graham Watters rides.
Merry Maker’s score in the Lonesome Glory was his second in four outings this year – and ﬁrst in a stake for trainer Arch Kingsley. In two previous stakes tries, he closed from 10th to third in the Jonathan Kiser novice, and ﬁnished fourth in the G1 Jonathan Sheppard, both at Saratoga. Parker Hendriks will be aboard.
The only other NSA Grade 1 winner in the ﬁeld is Keystone Thoroughbreds’ Noah and the Ark, who upset Snap Decision at 41-1 in the 2022 Lonesome Glory, but hasn’t shown that spark since. In three G1 starts this year he has yet to hit the board. Harry Beswick rides for trainer Todd McKenna.
For the rest of the ﬁeld, the Grand National will be an ambitious step up.
Madaket Stables and Paul and Molly Willis’ Jimmy P, trained by Keri Brion, turned heads with a dazzling 10 ½-length romp in a 120 handicap at the Iroquois Races, then followed it up with a sharp second to Awakened in the Jonathan Sheppard, where he brieﬂy took the lead before drifting out in the upper stretch, and still battled on to be beaten just a length. Danny Mullins, who came over from Europe to ride Jimmy P in both of those past two starts, returns. Mullins has had great success at Far Hills, taking the Grand National aboard Gill Johnston’s Mr. Hot Stuff in 2017.
Johnston also has a horse in this year’s Grand National, Mortlach, trained by Willie Dowling and ridden by Jamie Bargary. The eight-year-old was a six time hurdle and steeplechase winner in Europe, and made his one and only U.S. start in the Iroquois, where he led the over the ﬁrst two fences, settled in third, before tiring to ﬁnish seventh in the ﬁeld of eight.
Though Smithwick winner Belfast Banter is on the sidelines, the Irv Naylor stable and trainer Cyril Murphy have entered Scorpion’s Revenge to carry the colors of the NSA’s leading owner. A winner of three of his ﬁrst ﬁve starts – including the 2022 Green Pastures novice stakes at Iroquois – the Irish-bred seven-year-old son of Aidan O’Brien-trained millionaire Scorpion has run twice this season. In the Daniel Van Clief
stakes at Foxﬁeld, he was beaten a nose in his ﬁrst effort in seven months, followed by a closing third in the Iroquois, 3 ¾ lengths behind runner up Snap Decision.
The rest of the card contains powerhouse ﬁelds as well. Click here for full entries: https://nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Far-Hills.pdf
Here’s the race schedule:
1st race: 12:50 p.m. $50,000 Gladstone Sport of Kings 3-year-old hurdle stakes at 2 ⅛ miles.
2nd race: 1:33 p.m. $50,000 Harry E. Harris Sport of Kings 4-year-old hurdle stakes at 2 ⅛ miles.
3rd race: 2:16 p.m. $100,000 Foxbrook Champion novice hurdle stakes, 4-year-olds and up, at 2 ½ miles.
4th race: 3:01 p.m. $75,000 Peapack Sport of Kings ﬁlly & mare handicap hurdle stakes, 4-year-olds and up, at 2 ⅛ miles.
5th race: 3:44 p.m. $50,000 Appleton Sport of Kings 130 ratings handicap, 4-year-olds and up, at 2 ⅝ miles.
7th race: 4:32 p.m. $250,000 Grand National Sport of Kings hurdle stakes (Grade 1), 4-year-olds and up, at 2 ⅝ miles.
8th race: 5:17 p.m. $100,000 John Forbes Memorial Flat Stakes, 4-year-olds and up, at 2 miles.
How to watch
The Grand National will be broadcast live on America’s Day at the Races, produced by the New York Racing Association in partnership with Fox Sports. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.
As always, you can watch Saturday’s races via live stream from the link on the NSA homepage, www.nationalsteeplechase.com. The stream is sponsored by Brown Advisory.
How to wager
Fans have two ways to bet on their favorites, both via phone. Pari-mutuel wagering is available through 4NJBets. To sign up, deposit, and wager, you’ll need to download the 4NJBets app or visit https://4njbets.com/200farhills.
If you are physically present in New Jersey, you can also place wagers through the MonmouthBets app. MonmouthBets offers fixed-bet wagering, meaning the odds in place when you make your bet is the price you get if you’re a winner. For information and a link to download the app, click here: https://farhillsrace.org/fixed-odds-betting/