Irv Naylor’s Rawnaq, undefeated this year and tested to the limit in his most recent jumps start, heads a talented field of eight for Saturday’s $350,000 Grand National (Gr. 1), America’s richest steeplechase race.
The Grand National, at 2 5/8 miles over National Fences, headlines the 96th edition of the Far Hills Races in central New Jersey. For its seven races, Far Hills is offering record purses of $700,000.
First post time is 1 p.m., and the races will be available for live Internet viewing on farhillsrace.org and nationalsteeplechase.com.
Third in last year’s Grand National, Rawnaq has been perfect this year for trainer Cyril Murphy. He won the Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) impressively and battled to a gritty, hard-fought victory over two Irish invaders in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) in mid-May.
The Irish-bred nine-year-old will have a new jockey, top Irish rider Ruby Walsh, who finished third aboard Nichols Canyon in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois. His regular jockey, Jack Doyle, is out for the season with a fractured pelvis and tailbone sustained in a fall in Belmont Park’s $150,000 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) on Sept. 24.
Walsh and Nichols Canyon accompanied Rawnaq through the initial miles of the Calvin Houghland Iroquois before Shaneshill took up the running in the last half-mile. Rawnaq refused to surrender and won by a neck in a stirring finish.
Bruton Street-US’s Scorpiancer pushed Rawnaq out of the top spot by 2016 purse earnings when he won the Lonesome Glory, and he will be looking for his second career Grade 1 win in the Grand National.
Like Rawnaq, Scorpiancer is no stranger to the Far Hills course. He won last year’s Foxbrook Champion Hurdle in an impressive performance. Trainer Jack Fisher again tapped Sean McDermott to ride.
Rawnaq and Scorpiancer will have two challengers from overseas, Robert Aplin’s Sharp Rise and Gil Johnston’s Days of Heaven. Sharp Rise, trained by Charlie Longsdon, has five wins this year, both over hurdles and taller steeplechase fences.
Nicky Henderson-trained Days of Heaven also has wins over both types of fences. Brian Hughes has the mount on Sharp Rise, and Nico de Boinville will be aboard Days of Heaven.
Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu, second in Saratoga Race Course’s New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1), will be ridden by reigning champion jockey Paddy Young. The French-bred, trained by Leslie Young, won last fall’s Noel Laing Handicap at the Montpelier Hunt Races.
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard entered stakes winners who are coming back from extended stays on the sidelines. Bill Pape’s Martini Brother most recently finished second in Saratoga’s 2015 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1). Owned by Hudson River Farms, Parker’s Project won the 2015 David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) and then was third in the National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3) at the Radnor Hunt Races.
Ross Geraghty rides Parker’s Project, and Gerard Galligan will be aboard Martini Brother. Geraghty rode Dawalan to victory in last year’s Grand National.
Completing the field is Robert Kinsley’s homebred Tempt Me Alex, winner of Iroquois’ Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes in May. Willie McCarthy has the mount for trainer Elizabeth Voss.
Here is the field for the $350,000 Grand National. The horse’s rating is in parentheses at the end of each profile.
Tempt Me Alex. 2009 b. g.., Afleet Alex—Attemptress, by Meadowlake. Owner: Robert A. Kinsley. Trainer: Elizabeth Voss. Jockey: Willie McCarthy. Breeder: Robert A. Kinsley (Pa.) 2016 record: 1-1-0-0, $45,000. 2015 record: 1-0-1-0, $6,300. Won 2016 Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes at Iroquois Steeplechase. In his only 2015 start, finished close second in Iroquois Steeplechase Ratings Handicap. Won the 2014 Bright Hour at Iroquois. (125)
Rawnaq (Ire). 2007 b. g., Azamour (Ire)—Sharemata, by Dayoun (Ire). Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Cyril Murphy. Jockey: Ruby Walsh. Breeder: Jim Monaghan (Ire). 2016 record: 2-2-0-0, $150,000. 2015 NSA record: 2-0-1-1, $48,000. Won hard-fought victory in 2016 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) after impressive win in Middleburg Spring’s Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3). In his first U.S. start, closed gamely to finish third in Far Hills’ Grand National (Gr. 1), beaten a length, then finished second in Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1). (162)
Sharp Rise (Ire). 2007 b. g., Croco Rouge—Missusan, by King’s Ride. Owner: Robert Aplin. Trainer: Charlie Longsdon. Jockey: Brian Hughes. Breeder: Mrs. M. Brophy (Ire). 2016 NSA record: No starts. Made all the running in Stratford-on-Avon’s Hibbert Family Handicap Hurdle on Sept. 3 and won by 10 lengths for his fifth victory in eight starts this year. Also won over bigger steeplechase fences.
Scorpiancer (Ire). 2009 b. g., Scorpion (Ire)—Janebailey, By Silver Patriarch. Owner: Bruton Street-US. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Jockey: Sean McDermott. Breeder: Mary O’Connor (Ire). 2016 record: 6-1-3-1, $154,600. 2015 NSA record: 2-2-0-0, $75,000. Won Belmont Park’s 2016 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1). Finished good second in Saratoga’s 2016 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1), then was third in New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1). Finished second in Middleburg Spring’s 2016 Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3), then fourth in Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1). Finished second in Fair Hill’s Valentine Memorial Ratings Handicap. Won 2015 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle. (143)
Days of Heaven (Fr). 2010 dk. b. g., Saint des Saintes—Daramour, by Anabaa Blue (GB). Owner: Gil Johnston. Trainer: Nicky Henderson. Jockey: Nico de Boinville. Breeder: 2mme 1Guilhaine le Borgne (Fr). 2016 NSA record: No starts. Recent acquisition by prominent American owner won his only start over bigger steeplechase fences at Kempton in May. Reeled off three straight wins over hurdles in 2014-15 season but was unable to duplicate that form in 2015-16.
Andi’amu (Fr). 2010 b. g., Walk In The Park—Sainte Parfaite, by Septieme Ciel. Owner: Ballybristol Farm. Trainer: Leslie Young. Jockey: Paddy Young. Breeder: Therese Bouche (Fr). 2016 record: 5-1-2-0, $59,800. 2015 NSA record: 4-1-3-0, $56,400. Finished hard-driving second in 2016 New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1). Won Monmouth Park Ratings Handicap, then was fourth in Saratoga Ratings Handicap. Finished fifth in Middleburg Spring’s 2016 Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3), then was second in Iroquois Ratings Handicap. Won Montpelier’s Noel Laing, a Ratings Handicap. Finished second in first three U.S. starts. (129)
Parker’s Project. 2006 dk. b. or br. g., Parker’s Storm Cat—Let’s Canoodle, by Oh Say. Owner: Hudson River Farms. Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. Jockey: Ross Geraghty. Breeder: Jonathan Sheppard (Pa.) 2015 record: 2-1-0-1, $50,000. Making first start since third in 2015 National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3). Began 2015 campaign with neck victory in Virginia Gold Cup’s David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2). In first start in more than two years, closed well to finish second in Belmont Park’s 2014 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1), then finished third in Grand National (Gr. 1) (138).
Martini Brother. 2008 dk. b. or br. g., A.P. Indy—Island Sand, by Tabasco Cat. Owner: Bill Pape. Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. Jockey: Gerard Galligan. Breeder: Meadowview Farms (Ky). 2015 record: 2-0-1-0, $23,250. Making a comeback after more than a year on the sidelines. Finished second in the 2015 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1). Won his first three races in 2013, including a victory in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes, and was one of the year’s top novices. Grade 1-winning dam sold for $4.2-million at 2007 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale while carrying Martini Brother. (134)