The “Queen” continues her reign in American Grand National
Saturday’s Far Hills Races in New Jersey lived up to its reputation as the meet that crowns champions, as the two titans of American steeplechasing, Buttonwood Farm’s The Mean Queen and Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision, engaged in an epic showdown before a worldwide television audience on Fox Sports and America’s Best Racing in the $150,000 Grand National.
In their highly anticipated rematch following The Mean Queen’s upset of Snap Decision in the G1 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park last month — a victory that ended the seven-year-old gelding’s nine-race win streak — the Grand National played out a lot like their earlier match.
With only four horses facing New York Racing Association starter Hector Soler, in his debut at a National Steeplechase Association event, Irv Naylor’s Amschel, sporting blinkers for the first time, grabbed the lead under Barry Foley and held it for most of the 2 ⅝-mile contest. The pace was fairly steady, and Amschel was in front by as much as six lengths. Meanwhile, the three other runners held the exact same position throughout: The Mean Queen and Richie Condon in second, never more than two lengths ahead of Snap Decision and Graham Watters, with Meadow Run Farm’s Chosen Mate and champion Irish jockey Davy Russell bringing up the rear.
Racing up the backside the final time, Condon hit the gas, and the five-year-old mare responded, taking charge with two fences to go. As she headed into the final turn, Graham Watters asked Snap Decision for more, and the pair charged into second.
The Mean Queen held a length and a half advantage at the 14th and final fence, and as soon as both were up and over, Snap Decision moved alongside his nemesis, and the long duel to the wire was on.
Just as they had done in the Lonesome Glory, the two battled side by side through the stretch, only this time The Mean Queen, who was toting 148 pounds to Snap Decision’s 156 under the weight-for-age conditions, couldn’t scoot clear. But neither could Snap Decision get by her. At the finish, it was The Mean Queen by a half a length; it was another 20 lengths back to Amschel. In the Lonesome Glory, the margin was two lengths.
With the win — and two additional Grade 1 victories — The Mean Queen has all but locked up the 2021 Eclipse Award as champion jumper. In a couple of weeks, she’ll get a two-month break at a Pennsylvania farm before gearing up for a possible run in the mares’ hurdle at the prestigious Cheltenham Festival in England in March.
“I’m still just in awe of her,” mused trainer Keri Brion two days after the race. “She’s matured since beginning her career last November, and improves with each run. On Saturday, she just galloped along so relaxed and did all that she had to do. As I’ve said a million times, she won’t let a horse pass her. And she showed that again. She ended up winning with her ears pricked and she hasn’t missed a meal and doesn’t understand why she hasn’t trained the last two days!”
In other action
The Far Hills card, which offered online/mobile pari-mutuel wagering, featured five other hurdle races, all stakes, including the $50,000 Harry Harris for four-year-olds; $75,000 Foxbrook Champion novices; the $50,000 Appleton, a top-class handicap for jumpers rated at 130 or less; the $30,000 Gladstone for three-year-olds; and the $50,000 Peapack for fillies and mares.
Before taking the Grand National, Brion and Condon combined in the Harris with Atlantic Friends Racing’s Irish-bred Historic Heart, who made his first U.S. start a winning one, rallying over the last to collar Daniel W. Colhoun III’s Bogey’s Image by three-quarters of a length. Carrying high weight of 157 pounds and sent off as the $1.80-1 favorite, Historic Heart won for the fourth time in 16 career starts.
In the Foxbrook, Riverdee Stable’s City Dreamer, also bred in Ireland, found the winner’s circle for the first time since the Marcellus Frost novice stakes at Nashville in May 2019. The seven-year-old has enjoyed a long and successful career, earning more than $200,000 while running exclusively in stakes competition since coming to the U.S., in 2018. In the Foxbrook, City Dreamer, ridden by Graham Watters and trained by Hall of Famer Jack Fisher, rallied on the final turn, took the lead over the last jump, and drew off by 7 1/4 lengths over $1.50-1 favorite, Bryce Lingo and Leslie Kopp’s Ritzy A.P., who was coming off a score in the William Entenmann novice stakes at Belmont. City Dreamer went off at 7-1.
In the Appleton, Bruton Street-US’ Presence of Mind, racing on or near the lead for the entire 2 5/8 miles, scored by 2 1/4 lengths with Tom Garner in the saddle for trainer Leslie Young. The Irish-bred NSA newcomer, who finished third in his U.S. debut in a handicap at Shawan Downs on Sept. 25, prevailed in a driving finish over Irv Naylor’s Mighty Mark. Hudson River Farm’s Galway Kid was third. In nine previous starts in the UK, Presence of Mind was a two-time winner. His win at Far Hills was the first in stakes competition for the six-year old.
The biggest blowout of the day belonged to Meadow Run Farm’s recent acquisition, Realist, a British-bred three-year-old who romped by 28 lengths in the Gladstone, a showcase for young jumpers. Ridden by Davy Russell and trained by Gordon Elliott, the son of Camelot was sixth after a mile and third after a mile and a half. He narrowed the gap on the final turn and drew off easily after the final hurdle. The start was Realist’s eighth this season and third victory. Though this was his U.S. debut, bettors had plenty of faith in the horse and his high-powered connections, making Realist the $1.30-1 favorite.
Although rain was forecast for much of the afternoon, it held off until after the fifth race. With one more to go, the Peapack, the winds picked up, the sky darkened, and the precipitation started to fall. Post time was moved up, and three mares headed to the start: Beverly R. Steinman’s Speed Alert and Eve’s City, and the favorite, Joseph Fowler’s Down Royal. Down Royal, the pride and joy of trainer Kate Dalton and her jockey-husband, Bernie, was sent off at 4-5 and ran to her odds. The only stakes winner in the field, Down Royal took the lead on the backside heading into the final turn and drew off easily under light urging by 3 ½ lengths. It was the second stakes victory of the season for the seven-year-old New York-bred daughter of Alphabet Soup, to go along with a handicap score. In her only other start, in the Margaret Currey Henley Stakes in Nashville, she finished second to The Mean Queen.
Click here to see the full results.
A peek at the standings
Trainer Leslie Young’s victory with Presence of Mind gave her 13 for the season, one ahead of Neil Morris and Jack Fisher, who scored with City Dreamer. Brion’s two on the day gives her 11. With one win apiece, Tom Garner and Graham Watters remain tied for the lead among riders with 16.