Percussionist, making his first United States start after a successful career on the flat and over fences in Europe, exploded through the stretch to win the $250,000 Grand National (Gr. 1), featured race of the Far Hills Races on Saturday, Oct. 23.
Ridden by regular jockey James Patrick O’Farrell, the Irish-bred Sadler’s Wells gelding left no doubt about the outcome as he rolled to a decisive victory over Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Slip Away, who ran another strong race in a supporting role.
Bill Pape’s Lead Us Not finished third in a field of 12 for America’ richest steeplechase race at the central New Jersey course, which attracted a crowd of 40,000 on a pleasant, partly cloudy afternoon.
Owned by Morten Buskop and Old Friends Stable, Percussionist ran the Grand National’s 2 5/8 miles in 5:00.40 on firm turf. Software executive Buskop and his wife, a lawyer, care for Percussionist at their small yard outside Copenhagen, Denmark, exercising the nine-year-old before going to their jobs each day. Percussionist runs in the name of trainer Hanne Bechmann.
They had made a U.S. invasion last year with General Ledger, who finished second in the Grand National. Buskop said he believed that Percussionist would run well over the lush Far Hills course, but his only concern was the firm turf, because Percussionist favors softer ground. But the irrigated Far Course course had plenty of give, and Percussionist ran well over it.
When National Steeplechase Association starter R. Barry Watson dropped the flag to send the field on its way, Polaris Stable’s Preemptive Strike and jockey Jody Petty attempted a preemptive strike on the lead. They opened a solid advantage for the first circuit of the Far Hills course, with Slip Away and jockey Paddy Young tracking them in second and an eager Class Bopper third.
O’Farrell said that Percussionist only became interested in running on the turn into the backstretch the final time and began to pick up horses. Preemptive Strike gave ground grudgingly to Slip Away approaching the final fence, and Lead Us Not was advancing under Brian Crowley. But Percussionist launched a withering move that determined the result in a few strides.
Preemptive Strike held on for fourth, and Dictina’s Boy finished fifth. Gregory Dawkins’ Red Letter Day, fourth in last year’s Grand National, finished sixth.
Among those stopping by to congratulate Buskop after Percussionist’s Grand National victory was Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, who trained third-place finisher Lead Us Not.
Sheppard was honored before the first race for his 1,000th victory over fences, which occurred when Arcadius won the $100,000 Helen Haskell Sampson (Gr. 1) at Monmouth Park on September 25. Within two hours, he had added two more victories to the total. He struck first with his homebred One Giant Step, who took a big step forward in winning the $25,000 Harry E. Harris Sport of Kings maiden hurdle.
Sheppard’s big strike of the afternoon occurred with Mary Ann Houghland’s Nationbuilder, who closed under strong pressure from Crowley to win the $100,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle by a nose over a game All Together.
All Together, owned by Andre Brewster and Sheila Williams, appeared to be on his way to victory after opening a three-length lead on the final turn under Xavier Aizpuru. But Nationbuilder found his best stride in the stretch, and the two leaders battled in deep stretch before Nationbuilder grabbed a narrow advantage on the line. James Piper’s Call You in Ten finished third in the major test for horses in their first years of competition over fences.
Patriot’s Path dazzles
Patriot’s Path, Irvin S. Naylor’s reigning timber champion, shook off his competitors on the final turn of the $50,000 New Jersey Hunt Cup and drew away to a commanding 32 3/4-length victory under Darren Nagle. G’Day G’Day finished second in the 3 1/4-mile over timber fences. Haddix took third.
Trained by Desmond Fogarty, Patriot’s Path had returned to top form with a 10 3/4-length victory in the Genesee Valley Hunt Cup in Geneseo, N.Y., on Oct. 9.