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Results and Photos from the 88th Annual Far Hills Race Meeting in Far Hills, New Jersey

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As I posted here on Saturday, it was a gorgeous autumn afternoon for the running of the 88th annual Far Hills Races at Moorland Farms in Far Hills, New Jersey, benefitting Somerset Medical Center Foundation. The serious fans of the Hunt, who come out every year, rain or shine or mud, had arrived hours ahead of the 1:00pm post time for the time-honored ritual of setting up their party and viewing spots, ranging from lavish feasts provided by local caterers, laid out in white tents with formal tables and chairs up on the hilltop…to SUVs loaded with six-foot subs and parked at tailgating spots passed on from generation to generation… to tables, chairs and small tents carried in on people’s backs and set up along the infield fence. The crowd numbered 50,000 or more, and included socialites, local Somerset Hills and Roxiticus Valley families, as well as steeplechase fans and partygoing singles who had donned their elegant equestrian gear (and/or high-heeled boots!) and taken a train or a limo in from New York City. Rex, London, Maddie and I boarded one of the shuttle buses from the Gladstone train station for a quick trip to Far Hills. Not quick enough, though… we made it to Moorland Farms by 1:00pm, but by the time we had made it to our friends’ tailgate party along the infield fence on the back stretch, we had missed the first race, The Peapack, won by Class Shadow.

With about a half hour between races, London and Maddie settled in with their girlfriends, roughing it up with the boys playing football in the grass nearby, while Rex and I analyzed the Official Track Program for the horses in each race…Who did he beat? Who had the mount? How fast did they go? What’s his breeding? We mostly used the short race analysis provided in the program and, when all else failed, picked one of the names that stood out from the rest. The second race was the 2.5 mile Foxbrook Supreme Hurdle, a race that always showcases future stars and included five horses this year. Be Certain was the horse to beat, but he didn’t run, going in the Grand National (fourth race) instead and leaving the race wide open. Classy Brute proved his mettle with two wins this spring and a quality fourth in his most recent try at Kentucky Downs. Rex and I agreed that Classy Brute could pull a mild upset and put our $2 on him to win. The girls climbed up on the infield fence to cheer Classy Brute on, and I snapped a few photos as they jumped the hurdle and passed us on the back stretch. We had high hopes as Classy Brute looked good for a while, but the news came to us from the Jumbotron that Swagger Stick was the winner of the Foxbrook.

The third race was the 2.125 mile Appleton Stakes, with 9 horses running. Last year, Planets Aligned nearly won the Foxbrook with a solid effort despite getting too free on the lead early. The race analysis suggested that if he saved some energy for the finish, he could be tough here, so Rex and I put down our $2 on Planets Aligned. Our air guitar playing hostess, however, was wise to choose Cradle Will Rock, and taunted us with Van Halen lyrics as her horse won the Appleton Stakes.

History was made at last year’s event when owner Michael Moran’s remarkable 10-year-old gelding, McDynamo, won his fifth consecutive Breeder’s Cup Grand National Steeplechase. This feat was even more spectacular as it was his seventh consecutive victory at the Far Hills Race Meeting (2001-2007). Shortly before the start of the Grand National Hurdle Stakes (the fourth race), there was a special ceremony honoring McDynamo (“King of Far Hills”), now retired from racing, who joined the festivities at Moorland Farms to receive the accolades he so richly deserves. Our only disappointment was that the ceremony took place entirely in front of the Officials’ stand… we would have liked to see McDynamo take a victory lap around the course.

At last, it was time for the big race of the day, the 2.625 mile Grand National, in its first edition without McDynamo since 2003. Seven horses ran, including Be Certain, Best Attack, Good Night Shirt, Istibee (New Zealand), Dalucci (Ireland), Red Letter Day, and Orison. We put our $5 on Good Night Shirt for two reasons. Most importantly, “Good Night Shirt!” is an expression my mother always used when I was growing up, her form of “For Pete’s Sake.” I’ll have to check in with my mom to find out exactly where she got that expression that brought us all kinds of good luck at the Far Hills Races and I’ll report back to all of you. The second reason is that the program’s race analysis informed us that “the Grand National showcases a worthy replacement [for McDynamo] in Good Night Shirt. The 2007 steeplechase champion rides a four-race winning streak into today and can set a single-season earnings record with the $150,000 first-place check. He lost this race last year (to a superstar in McDynamo) but avenged that defeat later in the year. A solid favorite.” The race analysis goes on to assume the win for Good Night Shirt and goes on to say, “ The race for second should be heated. Upstart 4-year-old Be Certain deserves a look, though he gets his toughest test yet. Orison looked great in a training flat tuneup for this last week and got close to the favorite once last year. Best Attack is capable of a quality effort and was third here last year.” Good Night Shirt didn’t disappoint, and Rex and I collected our $15 winnings. While I’m sure you can do the math and see that our net earnings for the day were only $2.00, it was still exciting, since neither of us had ever bet on a horse and won before Saturday’s Grand National.

We stayed to see the running of the fifth race, the 2.125 mile Gladstone Hurdle, featuring 9 three-year-old steeplechasers… the equivalent of rookie baseball players – raw and unproven, but potential stars. Class Bopper defeated older horses in a maiden hurdle a week ago, and looked good doing it, so we put our $2 on Class Bopper to win. While Class Bopper was in the lead for a while, our luck had run out, and I don’t think Class Bopper even finished the race. We bid farewell to our gracious host and hostess, and headed back across Moorland Farms to the Far Hills train station and home.

Net proceeds from the Far Hills Race Meeting are earmarked for Somerset Medical Center’s Steeplechase Cancer Center, which contains state-of-the-art equipment, as well as highly trained specialists and technicians to help diagnose and treat this insidious disease. Since my mom is a breast cancer survivor who was and is treated at Somerset Medical Center, this charity is especially meaningful to my family and I’m proud to be able to be a part of an event that enables the Steeplechase Cancer Center to continue the battle to help eradicate cancer once and for all. It’s a great day for a great cause, and I’d encourage all of you to come out and participate in next year’s Far Hills Race Meeting. We’ll be posting all the details here as plans are made for the 89th Annual Far Hills Race Meeting at Moorland Farms in Far Hills, New Jersey….See you there!

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