An even mix of domestic-based hopefuls and raiders from Europe will contest Saturday’s $450,000 Grand National (G1) at Far Hills, New Jersey, the final and most lucrative of the top-level hurdles on the American jump calendar.
The Eclipse Award for champion steeplechaser seemingly remains up for grabs in the 2 5/8-mile event, with only dual Grade 1 scorer Winston C chief among those not participating after going unplaced in last month’s Lonesome Glory (G1).
Jury Duty, who powered to a 3 1/4-length win in last year’s Grand National as the the 13-10 favorite, is back to defend his title. The eight-year-old has started three times in the interim. Failing to finish either the English or Irish Grand Nationals, he most recently placed sixth in a Gowran Park stakes which had served as his final pre-Far Hills prep last season.
The 3-1 morning line favorite is the 10-year-old Wicklow Brave, who most notably captured the 2016 Irish St Leger (G1) on the flat. He enters the Grand National off three straight wins in Ireland, most notably a sixth-length minor stakes win at Galway in early August.
The recent form of other foreign entries The Storyteller, Brain Power, and Rashaan is not quite so fine, but improved efforts from any would not be a total shock.
The American-based contingent is led by 2017 season champion Scorpiancer, who won the Iroquois (G1) in May but weakened to fifth in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park last time. His last attempt over this course and distance was a close second-place effort to Rawnaq in the 2016 Grand National.
Surprising Soul turned in a surprise, flag-to-finish victory in the Lonesome Glory by more than three lengths at 17-1, a beefy price given he had lost the Iroquois to Scorpiancer by only a length. Temple Gwathmey (G3) winner Moscato also lost the Iroquois by a length when third, but was a sub-par eighth in the Belmont feature and is conceivably better.
Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard sends out Iranistan, unraced since placing in both the 2018 editions of the A.P. Smithwick Memorial (G1) and New York Turf Writers Cup (G1) at Saratoga. Modem has never quite lived up to expectations after running second in virtually every major Grade 1 hurdle in 2017. That streak included a heart-breaking nose loss to Mr. Hot Stuff in that season’s Grand National.
The seven-race program at Far Hills supplants the action on Saturday at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands, both of which are dark for flat racing. You can watch and wager on the entire Far Hills card at TwinSpires.com beginning at 1:00 p.m. (EDT).