Steeplechasing returns to the sport’s biggest stage
After last year’s cancellation due to Covid-19, the Far Hills Race Meeting in New Jersey will celebrate its centennial on Saturday with a six-race, all-stakes hurdle card showcasing the best of American steeplechase racing — including the highly anticipated rematch between The Mean Queen and Snap Decision in the main event, the American Grand National. The meet, with a first-race post time of 1:20 p.m., offers a total of $405,000 in purses, making it the richest on the National Steeplechase Association 2021 calendar.
It also will be the most visible. For the first time, the races will be on national television as part of America’s Day at the Races, a show produced by the New York Racing Association and broadcast on Fox Sports’ FS2. Larry Collmus, the voice of the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup, will be on hand to call the action. Live coverage on FS2 begins at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time, and concludes at 3:30 p.m. For information on how to access FS2, which is part of a paid subscription service to Fox Sports Networks, click here. Once the FS2 broadcast ends, the rest of the card will be telecast via the America’s Day at the Races program. (Note: As usual, you can watch the Far Hills Races via the live stream network on the National Steeplechase Association web site.)
“This is one of the best things to happen to us since NBC Sports covered the Grand National when it was the Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase” said NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo, about the widespread exposure the sport will receive. “They’re covering all six races. It’s just the kind of industry recognition we need. And it all came about because of our strong working relationship with the NYRA management team.”
Gallo added that The Mean Queen’s success in the Jonathan Sheppard Stakes at Saratoga played a significant role in piquing NYRA’s interest, especially when trainer Keri Brion finished first, second, and third in the race named for her Hall of Fame mentor. And when the magnificent mare upset jump racing’s brightest star, Snap Decision, in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park, it sparked further enthusiasm to broadcast the races from Far Hills.
A rare wagering opportunity
Outside of events held at the flat tracks, pari-mutuel wagering on steeplechasing is a rarity, but on Saturday, fans have the chance to bet on all their favorites through 4NJBets, which is partnered with TVG. To sign up, deposit, and wager, you’ll need to download the 4NJBets app or visit tvg.com/farhills250. Fans are encouraged to sign up in advance and can use promo code FARHILLS250 to get a 50 percent deposit match up to $250 on their first deposit. Note that there will not be mutuels tellers onsite for wagering.
Anchoring the event is the race that has helped crown so many champions, the $150,000 Grand National, the fifth and final Grade 1 stake of the year, which will be run as race three. The day begins with the $50,000 Harry Harris for four-year-olds, followed by the $75,000 Foxbrook Champion, open to novice competitors in the early stages of their careers. After the Grand National comes the $50,000 Appleton, a top-class handicap for jumpers rated at 130 or less. The fifth race is the $30,000 Gladstone, restricted to three-year-olds. The day concludes with the $50,000 Peapack for fillies and mares. Here’s a link to the complete list of entries.
A closer look at the National
What the Grand National field lacks in size — only four will go to the post in the 2 ⅝-mile classic — it makes up for in quality and sheer electricity. In past years, the race has had a pronounced international flavor. This year, there’s only one European, but eight-year-old Chosen Mate, from trainer Gordon Elliott’s powerhouse County Meath, Ireland-based stable, is a five-time winner whose crowning moment came at the prestigious 2020 Cheltenham Festival in England when he captured the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup. Champion jockey Davy Russell, who was aboard Chosen Mate that day, has made the trip across the Atlantic to ride him for the horse’s new American owner, Meadow Run Farm. Russell has additional mounts on the card for both Elliott and other conditioners.
Irv Naylor’s Amschel has acquitted himself well in the U.S., following a successful career in Ireland — three wins and a second in four starts — and he finished a solid third in his NSA debut, in the 2018 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills. He has chased Snap Decision three times this season (and The Mean Queen once), and the closest he’s come to him is 3 ½ lengths, in the G1 Iroquois last spring. He was well beaten in the other two. As a weight-for-age contest, Amschel carries 156 pounds in the Grand National, the same as Snap Decision, but eight more than The Mean Queen. Barry Foley has the mount for trainer Cyril Murphy.
Of course, all eyes will be glued to the showdown between Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision and Buttonwood Farm’s The Mean Queen, who stopped her rival’s record-tying nine-race win streak in the G1 $150,000 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park one month ago. Sent off as the odds-on favorite, the Jack Fisher-trainee rallied outside of The Mean Queen on the final turn of the 2 ½-mile race, and the pair drew clear of the field and dueled to the sixteenth pole, when the five-year-old Irish-bred mare pulled away by two lengths. For The Mean Queen, it was her sixth victory in eight starts in a career that began less than a year ago. Her record might very well have included a seventh win had she not thrown jockey Tom Garner with a big lead nearing the wire in the Jonathan Kiser novice stakes at Saratoga — a bizarre occurrence that only added to her mystique.
If Snap Decision has one advantage at Far Hills it’s that he’s raced over the Moorland Farm course successfully, scoring by 4 ¾ lengths in the 2019 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle. That’s no small feat, as many horses either love the going or don’t.
In the Grand National, regular rider Graham Watters pilots Snap Decision while Richie Condon, who was aboard The Mean Queen in the Lonesome Glory, has the return mount.