America’s best steeplechase horses in training will be challenged by an invasion of overseas runners in Saturday’s $400,000 Grand National (Gr. 1), America’s richest steeplechase race and the centerpiece of the Far Hills Races, central New Jersey’s fall festival of horse racing and family fun.
In all, the 97th annual Far Hills Races will feature five stakes races—featuring many of the top horses in their respective divisions—among its seven contests. Purses will total $800,000, a record for a National Steeplechase Association race meet.
The fan-friendly Far Hills meet also is expected to have the largest crowd in North American horse racing on Saturday, with a crowd approaching 40,000. Plus, the racing can be viewed internationally by live streaming video on the Far Hills website, farhillsrace.org. First post time is 1 p.m.
The Grand National will go a long way toward determining the year’s champion steeplechase horse, and nine worthy competitors will line up to face the starter for the 2 5/8-mile race over National Fences. Of those nine, three are based overseas.
The American-based contingent is highly competitive, and coming off a major, breakout victory is Buttonwood Farm’s All the Way Jose, who burst away from his opponents to win Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) by 1 1/4 lengths on Sept. 21.
Bred and trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard, All the Way Jose is no stranger to Far Hills’ Moorland Farm course. Three years ago, he locked up the championship for novices—horses in their first years of racing over fences—by winning the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle.
Darren Nagle, who currently leads the NSA jockey standings, again will be in the saddle on All the Way Jose.
Robert A. Kinsley’s Modem, who began racing in the United States this summer, will be trying to attain the winner’s circle after three straight second-place finishes in Grade 1 races. In addition to his place finish in the Lonesome Glory, the British-bred gelding was second in the A. P. Smithwick Memorial and the New York Turf Writers Cup, both at Saratoga Race Course. Trainer Elizabeth Voss named Jack Doyle to ride.
Jack Fisher leads the NSA’s trainer standings by 10 races and more than a half-million dollars and is all but assured of his sixth straight title by wins and his fourth straight by purses. He is responsible for the youngest and the oldest members of the Grand National field.
The youngest at age six is Bruton Street-US’s Moscato, who has zoomed to the top of the earnings table in his first year of racing over fences. On the same Belmont program as the Lonesome Glory, the British-bred gelding roared away to a 3 1/2-length victory in the William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes. Sean McDermott has the mount.
Top Irish jockey Danny Mullins will be aboard Gil Johnston’s Mr. Hot Stuff, an 11-year-old who finished fifth in the Lonesome Glory. A consistent competitor, Mr. Hot Stuff competed in the 2009 Triple Crown races on the flat.
Moscato has never finished worse than second in six starts over fences, his first run and in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes.
Irv Naylor, owner of the last two Grand National winners, Dawalan in 2015 and Rawnaq last year, will go for the hat trick with Jamarjo. In his most recent start, Irish-bred Jamarjo won Radnor Hunt Races’ National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3) on May 20 for trainer Leslie Young.
Jamarjo will be ridden by Paul Townend, a talented young jump jockey who was the Irish champion rider in the 2010-2011 racing season.
A member of the overseas contingent is Mighty Acorn Stables’ Casino Markets, who is trained in England’s horse country by Emma Lavelle. Casino Markets has tested the American market twice, finishing eighth in the New York Turf Writers and a much-improved fourth in the Lonesome Glory, beaten 2 1/2 lengths. Ross Geraghty will ride.
Owner Robert Aplin and trainer Charlie Longsdon visited Far Hills last year and took home third-place money in the Grand National with Sharp Rise. They are returning with contender Hammersly Lake, who has won three times this year, most recently in the Sodexo Prestige Venues Steeplechase at Perth Hunt on Sept. 11. Brian Hughes, who rode Sharp Rise last year, has the mount.
Joseph O’Brien, a rising star on the international racing scene, entered Katnap, a 10-year-old who finished second in Aintree’s Randox Health Topham Steeplechase in April. The trainer, son of renowned Coolmore trainer Aidan O’Brien, was a top flat jockey before beginning a training career that has had early successes. David Russell rides Katnap.
The American contenders will have an additional incentive to reach the winner’s circle. Irish Thoroughbred Marketing will award the winning owner for the 2017 American Grand National a trip to the 2018 Punchestown Festival. The prize includes round-trip economy flights from any U.S. airport, accommodation, and four days racing including hospitality in late April.
Here is the field for the $400,000 Grand National (Gr. 1) in post-position order. All starters carry 156 pounds. The horses’ National Steeplechase Association ratings are in parentheses at the end of their profiles.
All the Way Jose. 2010 b. g., Senor Swinger—Maternity Leave, by Northern Baby. Owner: Buttonwood Farm. Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. Jockey: Darren Nagle. Breeder: Jonathan Sheppard (Pa.) 2017 record: 5-2-1-2, $139,300. 2016 NSA record: 3-0-0-0, $7,500. 2015 record: 3-0-0-0, $3,750. Won 2017 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1). Won Fair Hill’s $40,000 Valentine Memorial ratings handicap by 15 1/4 lengths, then lost rider in A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) and was third in New York Turf Writers (Gr. 1). Finished third in 2017 Tryon Block House handicap, then was second in Iroquois ratings handicap. Clinched 2014 novice championship with Foxbrook Champion Hurdle victory. (136)
Moscato (GB). 2011 gr. or ro. g., Hernando (Fr)—Alba Stella, by Nashwan. Owner: Bruton Street-US. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Jockey: Sean McDermott. Breeder: Miss K. Rausing (GB). 2017 record: 6-4-2-0, $156,000. 2016 NSA record: No starts. Won Belmont Park’s 2017 William Entenmann Novice Stakes and Saratoga’s Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes impressively after strong closing second in Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes. Won Queen’s Cup maiden by 7 1/4 lengths and Iroquois allowance hurdle by 6 1/2 lengths. (139)
Katnap (Fr). 2007 bl. g., Sleeping Car—Kitty Gale, by Strong Gale. Owners: Finola Murphy, Ann Marie McManus, and Tahnee Grant. Trainer: Joseph O’Brien. Jockey: David Russell. Breeder: 2mme 1susan Bramall (Fr). 2017 NSA record: No starts. Finished a good second, beaten a length, in Randox Health Topham Handicap at Aintree in April. Tightened with handicap start at Navan in September. Trainer, son of Coolmore trainer Aidan O’Brien, is former top flat jockey who has had success as trainer on flat and over fences.
Modem (GB). 2010 b. g., Motivator—Alashaan, (GB), by Darshaan (GB). Owner: Robert A. Kinsley. Trainer: Elizabeth Voss. Jockey: Jack Doyle. Breeders: Mr. and Mrs. D. J. Deer (GB). 2017 NSA record: 1-0-1-0, $27,000. Finished second in three 2017 New York jump races: Saratoga’s A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) and New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1), and Belmont’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1), as favorite in all three races. Arrived in U.S. after allowance victory in provincial Irish track Ballinrobe. Durable gelding has seven wins in 47 career starts. (140)
Casino Markets (Ire). 2008 br. g., Fruits of Love—Vals Dream, by Pierre. Owner: Mighty Acorn Stables. Trainer: Emma Lavelle. Jockey: Ross Geraghty. Breeder: Ms. V. Cronin (Ire). 2017 NSA record: 2-0-0-0, $7,500. Showed some improvement when fourth in 2017 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) after eighth in New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1), his U.S. debut. From Wiltshire stable of innovative National Hunt trainer, had three consecutive wins in 2016 and two third-place finishes in the spring of 2017 at Cheltenham and Sandown. (132)
Jamarjo (Ire). 2007 b. g., Marju—Athlumney Lady, by Lycius. Owner; Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Leslie Young. Jockey: Paul Townend. Breeder: Frank Dunne (Ire). 2017 NSA record: 2-0-1-0, $35,400. 2016 record: 5-1-1-2, $55,500. 2015 record: 1-1-0-0, $15,000. Won Radnor’s National Hunt Cup (Gr. 1) easily after second in Foxfield Spring’s 2017 Daniel Van Clief Memorial optional allowance hurdle. Finished second in Belmont Park’s 2016 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1), then was fourth in Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1). (136)
Mr. Hot Stuff. 2006 dk. b. or br. g., Tiznow—Sweet Damsel, by Turkoman. Owner: Gil Johnston. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Jockey: Danny Mullins. Breeder: WinStar Farm (Ky.) 2017 record: 4-0-0-1, $11,000. 2016 record: No starts. Finished fifth in Belmont Park’s 2017 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1). Finished third in 2017 Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3) after missing 2016 season, then was pulled up in Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) and seventh in New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1). Won 2015 Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3). Won the 2013 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) at Saratoga. (133)
Hammersly Lake (Fr). 2008 b. g., Kapgarde—Loin de Moi, by Loupe Solitaire. Owner: Robert Aplin. Trainer: Charles E. Longsdon. Jockey: Brian Hughes. Breeder: 3m. 1fabrice Simon (Fr). 2017 NSA record: No starts. Has been highly consistent over summer and fall with three wins and two seconds in England, most recently a four-length win in the Sodexo Prestige Venues Steeplechase Handicap at regional course Perth Hunt in September. Owner and trainer had a third with Sharp Rise in last year’s Grand National (Gr. 1).