Steeplechasing is an increasingly international sport, and the Far Hills Race Meeting is the principal crossroads where Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Europe meet America.
For evidence of Far Hills’ role in steeplechasing’s globalism, look no further than the entries for Far Hills’ signature race, the $450,000 Grand National (Gr. 1). Of the 13 horses entered for America’s richest steeplechase race on Saturday, six of them have never started in America, and another has one American start. That one is the Sideways Syndicate’s Jury Duty, who won last year’s Grand National for trainer Gordon Elliott.
Of the other six entrants, only two of them were born in America. So, the question arises: Is this bad, that so few American-bred horses are racing in Far Hills’ richest race?
The short answer is no, it’s not bad news. In many ways, it’s good news for American steeplechasing.
A short answer sometimes requires a longer explanation, and so it is with the intricacies of horse breeding in America and overseas, especially when today’s environment has been shaped over the last half-century.
The 118th running of the historic $450,000 Grand National (Gr. 1) on Saturday will feature an international field of 13 top competitors trained by top international horsemen and ridden by leading international jockeys.
The 2 5/8-mile Grand National, one of the world’s richest steeplechase races, will highlight a day of top-quality racing at the 99th Far Hills Races in New Jersey. In all, 79 entries were taken for the six stakes races over hurdles and one flat race. In all, purses total $850,000.
Sideways Syndicate’s Jury Duty, who invaded last year from Ireland and won the Grand National by 3¼ lengths, will attempt back-to-back victories in a formidable field. Most recently sixth in Gowran Park’s PWC Champion Steeplechase on Oct. 5, he will again be ridden by Robbie Power.
Gordon Elliott, Jury Duty’s trainer, also entered Pat Sloan’s The Storyteller, a top-rated chaser who most recently finished eighth in the PWC Champion Steeplechase. Veteran jockey Davy Russell has the mount.
Willie Mullins entered Wicklow Bloodstock’s Wicklow Brave, a formidable competitor over hurdles and chase fences and a Grade 1 winner on the flat. The 10-year-old arrives from Ireland with a three-race winning streak, including Galway’s Guinness Brewery Steeplechase in August. Paul Townend will ride.
Mullins also entered Bruton Street IV’s Pravalaguna, a seven-year-old mare who most recently finished fifth in the Guinness Kerry National Steeplechase over chase fences. Also entered in Far Hills’ $75,000 Peapack Stakes, she will be ridden by Danny Mullins.
Good Night Shirt, a Racing Hall of Fame member who won back-to-back Eclipse Awards as champion steeplechase horse in 2007 and 2008, has died as a result of colic.
Owned by Harold A. “Sonny” Via and trained by Jack Fisher through his steeplechase career, Maryland-bred Good Night Shirt is one of only three horses to exceed $1-million in career jump-racing earnings, with fellow Hall of Fame members McDynamo and Lonesome Glory.
By a Racing Hall of Fame member, Breeders’ Cup Classic (Gr. 1) winner Concern, and out of the Two Punch mare Hot Story, Good Night Shirt was meant to be a flat horse. Bred by Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Bowman, he was briefly put in training by his breeders before Sean Clancy spotted him at the Fair Hill Training Center and bought him privately in 2004 for Riverdee Stable.
In training with Elizabeth Merryman, Good Night Shirt won twice on the flat before Riverdee sold him to Via, who in turn transferred the strapping chestnut to Fisher. He raced at four and five in 2005 and 2006 with middling success, including a victory in Colonial Downs’ 2006 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 3), his only win that season.
As both Via and Fisher noted at the time, Good Night Shirt was making steady progress, and he was primed for greatness at age six in 2007. That season was a slugfest between two champions. Good Night Shirt struck first, winning the Iroquois Steeplechase (Gr. 1) by 5¼ lengths, with reigning Eclipse champion McDynamo finishing fourth.
The Monday Report for Oct. 14, featuring the timber victories of Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu in Virginia Fall’s $40,000 National Sporting Library and Museum Cup and Dolly Fisher’s Schoodic in the $30,000 Genesee Valley Hunt Cup, is now available here. The web address is: https://www.nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/MR10-14-19w.pdf
Douglas Reid Small Jr., the champion steeplechase jockey in 1965, suffered an injury while mountain biking with his dog in Fair Hill, Md., and died peacefully on Friday, Oct. 11, surrounded by his wife, four daughters, several grandchildren, and his dog, Otis, laying on the bed with him.
He was the husband of Lori Small, with whom he shared 31 years of marriage.
Born in Champagne, Ill., in 1943, Doug was the son of the late horseman Douglas Reid Small and the late Jane Watters Small.
Doug was a man of many talents. He studied and became a Master Naturalist, culminating his lifelong love and passion for all living things. He was an avid fly fisherman, bee keeper, artist, gardener, mountain biker, dog trainer, wood worker, reader, and tinkerer.
He loved the thrill of winning a race, whether on a horse or bicycle, against his children or grandchildren.
Dougie was a steeplechase jockey for many outstanding trainers, including his then father-in-law, W. Burling Cocks, and his uncle Sidney Watters. When Doug left the racing world, he recreated himself as an architect and builder of custom post-and-beam and historic reproduction homes.
Rosbrian Farm’s Caldbeck, who kicked off his 2018 three-year-old championship with a victory in Far Hills’ Gladstone Stakes, has been nominated to a return trip to the New Jersey race course for the $75,000 Harry E. Harris Stakes for four-year-olds. The new stakes race for four-year-olds is one of two notable changes on the Far