ALL eyes will be on Far Hills in New Jersey at 9pm this evening [Saturday] when the next chapter in the Hewick fairytale will be written.
The Shark Hanlon-trained gelding, who cost €850 and has already won over €300,000 in prize money, is odds-on favourite to win the American Grand National which has a first prize of over €160,000.
“It’s a gamble coming over here,” the trainer told The Irish Field this week. “It cost a good few quid to get him here but he travelled very well and so have we.”
Despite the name of the race, the obstacles are not much bigger than hurdles and Hanlon is confident that his Galway Plate winner will cope.
“He jumped them on Wednesday and he had jumped similar hurdles in Duninga before he travelled, so hopefully they won’t be a problem. The only worry is the race distance of two miles and five furlongs on fast ground. It’s a bit on the sharp side but he’s not a slow horse and I am hopeful his class will see him through.”
With an official Irish chase mark of 167, Hewick is effectively a Grade 1 horse by Irish standards and should be superior to his eight locally trained opponents. His task was eased this week by the withdrawal of last year’s winner The Mean Queen.
Jordan Gainford, who won the Galway Plate on Hewick and was unseated from the horse at the final fence in the Kerry National when holding every chance, is again on board. Danny Mullins and Nico de Boinville also have rides in the race.
Nicky Henderson won the 2019 edition with Brain Power and the Gordon Elliott-trained Jury Duty was successful in 2018. Elliott runs three horses on the undercard today: Ted Hastings, Soviet Pimpernel and The Insider.
A crowd of between 30,000 and 40,000 is expected for the meeting, which could be compared to a point-to-point in that there is no grandstand and racegoers tend to bring their own picnic.
US jump racing expert Sean Clancy says there is excitement over the prospect of Hewick taking on local Grade 1 winners Snap Decision and Noah And The Ark.
“Far Hills isn’t Punchestown, it isn’t Cheltenham, but it’s the best version of steeplechasing we can put on in this country,” he said. “Proper course, proper ground, proper crowd, proper horses. Hewick adds to the excitement, adds to the energy of the day. American steeplechasing is excited he’s here. A proper horse and an unbelievable story.”
Clancy does not believe Hewick will have it easy. “Can he win? Sure. Will he win? Now, that’s a good question.”
“Usually, horses who are excelling at three miles in Ireland can be a little one-paced for here, that would be the only concern against some speedier types like Pistol Whipped, Song For Someone, Global Citizen and the other European-bred horses. Having said that, horses rated 167 aren’t coming here.”
Snap Decision, a 13-length Grade 1 winner at Saratoga in August, is the main threat to the Irish horse, Clancy says. “Snap Decision is a proper horse. He’s never finished worse than second in 17 starts over hurdles. He’s versatile, he can be in front, although that’s not his best, he can sit close or he can settle and make a run.
“I once asked his jockey, Graham Watters, about which race in Europe would suit him and he said the Galway Plate. So, yeah, that makes for quite a matchup with Hewick. As good as they are, it’s far from a two-horse race, which adds to the intrigue and makes tactics even more integral.”
Reflecting on recent running of the race, Clancy added: “If you look back at some of the European horses who have won the Grand National, The Mean Queen got the best of Snap Decision in last year’s version, a properly run race with no excuses from either one.
“Brain Power benefitted from the tragic fall of Wicklow Brave in 2019. Jury Duty crushed a bunch of handicappers back in 2018. Rawnaq hammered Scorpiancer, a nice horse, but nothing like Snap Decision.
“Pierrot Lunaire, Black Jack Blues, Percussionist, Your Sum Man - they performed admirably but didn’t face the likes of Hewick, Snap Decision or some of the other high-octane invaders this year. Drop the flag. Enjoy the show.”
Paddy Power bets 8/11 Hewick, 5/2 Snap Decision, 15/2 Global Citizen, 14 Noah And The Ark, 16 Ask Paddington, 20 Pistol Whipped, 25 Song For Someone, Belfast Banter, 33 Moscato.
(Placing a bet of €1 or more will entitle you to watch race live)
Watch live (fee required): nationalsteeplechase.com (OFF TIME 9.05pm GMT)