Saturday’s $450,000 Grand National (Gr. 1), North America’s richest steeplechase race and the centerpiece of the 98th annual Far Hills Races in New Jersey, is likely to have its largest overseas presence ever after 13 horses were nominated for the classic hurdle race.
The Grand National will headline a Far Hills program offering $850,000 in purses, the most ever for a National Steeplechase Association race meet. For the first time, Far Hills will offer pari-mutuel wagering under the supervision of the New Jersey Racing Commission.
Of the 13 nominees, five had their most recent races overseas, and they will be looking to overtake Zanjabeel, a Grand National nominee who made his U.S. debut last fall at Far Hills and easily won the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle for trainer Gordon Elliott.
Zanjabeel --- which spent part of the winter training at the Springdale Racecourse in Camden --- was turned over to Pennsylvania trainer Ricky Hendriks and now leads the 2018 earnings table after back-to-back victories in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois and Lonesome Glory Handicap.
A prominent Irish trainer, Elliott nominated two contenders to this year’s Grand National. Clarcam, also owned by Rosbrian and Meadow Run, has started twice in the U.S. and most recently finished sixth in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park after setting the early pace.
His second nominee is Sideways Stable’s Jury Duty, who has been competitive in top events in Ireland. He finished third to front-running winner Clarcam in the thetote.com Galway Plate Steeplechase in early August.
British owner Robert Aplin has nominated Hammersly Lake for a return trip to central New Jersey. Trained by Charlie Longsdon, the French-bred finished fifth in last year’s Grand National.
Two rising young trainers were represented in the Grand National nominations. Ben Pauling, based in England’s Cotwolds, nominated Bruton Street-US’s Jaleo, a steeplechase allowance winner in June.
Emmet Mullins, a former steeplechase jockey and the nephew of leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins, nominated his Tornado Watch, a two-time winner over fences in the spring and a maiden flat winner in August.
The fifth overseas starter is Gillian Johnston’s Days of Heaven, who finished fifth in the 2016 Grand National for trainer Nicky Henderson. A three-time winner over steeplechase fences last year, Days of Heaven is now trained by Jack Fisher. Johnston won last year’s Grand National with Fisher-trained Mr. Hot Stuff.
The American contingent certainly has some firepower. Fisher nominated Sonny Via’s Hinterland, a hard-closing second to Zanjabeel in the Lonesome Glory.
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard nominated Buttonwood Farm’s All the Way Jose, who finished third, two noses behind Mr. Hot Stuff, in last year’s Grand National. The eight-year-old most recently finished sixth in the New York Turf Writers Cup.
Irv Naylor nominated his Dawalan, the 2015 Grand National winner who has not raced in more than 17 months. The 2015 Eclipse Award winner is trained by Cyril Murphy, and trainer Leslie Young nominated Naylor’s Indian Hawk, who finished seventh in his first U.S. start, Belmont’s William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes.
Young also nominated Michael A. Smith’s Mercoeur, third in the Radnor Hunt Races’ National Hunt Cup on May 19.
Coming off a nearly 15-month break is The Fields Stable’s Portrade, winner of the 2016 New York Turf Writers Cup. Elizabeth Voss-trained Portrade finished fourth in the 2017 A. P. Smithwick Memorial.