Eldon Farm Racing Stable's Hirapour tries to solidify claims on his second consecutive Eclipse Award as champion steeplechaser in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Steeplechase (NSA-I) at Far Hills, N.J. He was installed a slight 6-5 favorite over McDynamo in entries taken today.
Hirapour and McDynamo headline North America's richest steeplechase, run for the 13th time, and helped limit the field to just six thanks to stellar records over the past two seasons. Hirapour won the 2004 Eclipse, and leads all steeplechasers with $208,025 earned this year. McDynamo won the 2003 Eclipse, captured the last two Breeders' Cups, and carries a perfect 4-0 record over the Far Hills course.
The six-horse field is the smallest in Breeders' Cup Steeplechase history. Hirapour, McDynamo and third choice Preemptive Strike cast long shadows.
"The size of the field is not an accurate measure of the race's importance or it's quality," said Bill Gallo, director of racing for the National Steeplechase Association. "The three major horses scared some of the others away for sure, but together they make for an intriguing race."
Backing that up are full fields in the day's chief undercard races - 11 in a shorter open hurdle stakes with NSA-III status and 11 in an NSA-I novice hurdle stakes. Far Hills, which benefits the Somerset Medical Center and expects another sold-out crowd of 50,000, offers a seven-race lineup with $525,000 in total purses (including six stakes) with a first post time of 12:30 p.m.
Owned by Michael Moran, McDynamo tries to become the first Thoroughbred to win three Breeders' Cups. The 8-year-old dominated the 2003 running in a 15-length romp and came back last year, off an 11-month layoff, to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Hirapour. The Kentucky-bred son of Dynaformer also broke his hurdle maiden over the course (in 2001) and won a novice stakes there (in 2002). All told, he has won nine of 16 career jump starts and boasts earnings of $633,107 -- fifth on the all-time NSA list. McDynamo has lost all four starts this year (three seconds and a third), but might get the perfect tonic for ending the slide.
"You get a good feeling when a horse shows he likes the course," said trainer Sanna Hendriks. "Far Hills suits his running style and he's shown he likes it, but it's going to be a tough race to win. We've had some legitimate reasons in the losses this year and he hasn't run a particularly bad race."
The defending race winner is listed at 8-5 and will have Hendriks' stable jockey Jody Petty aboard for the first time.
Hirapour is the only Thoroughbred to win two NSA-I steeplechases this year, and can lock away the year-end championship with a third top-level victory. The son of Kahyasi has won five of nine American jump starts since being imported in 2003 and owns a 10-for-17 mark over jumps including his European career. Trainer Doug Fout and jockey Matt McCarron opt for a late-running style with the 9-year-old, but won't wait quite as long as they did in last year's runner-up effort to McDynamo.
"We're not going to get as far out of it as we did last year," said Fout. "I made a big mistake telling Matt to stay too far out of it for too long. They are all great horses and it's a tough racecourse. Hopefully with a little bit better luck and a little bit of different tactics we can turn it around."
The Irish-bred Hirapour won the Royal Chase (NSA-I) at Keeneland in April, beating McDynamo and Sur La Tete, and came back to take the New York Turf Writers Cup (NSA-I) at Saratoga in September, beating Breeders' Cup entrant Three Carat.
Beyond Hirapour and McDynamo, Saturday's race centers on pacesetter Preemptive Strike. The 7-year-old zooms immediately to the front in most of his races, and made that speed stand up in an impressive score over McDynamo in the NSA-II Somerset Medical Center Stakes at the Meadowlands Oct. 1. Owned by Polaris Stable, the Pennsylvania-bred has won two of three this year and is listed as the 4-1 third choice.
Preemptive Strike beat Hirapour in 2004 and picked up an NSA-III win at Far Hills last year. At the Meadowlands, the son of Roanoke opened a 30-length lead early and used that margin to get a breather at the race's halfway point before kicking clear again late to win by five lengths.
The field also includes Three Carat, who was second to Hirapour in the Turf Writers, while getting 18 pounds from the champion, and third in the Somerset behind Preemptive Strike and McDynamo; Mon Villez, a French import with only two U.S. starts under his girth; and Understood, a Grade III stakes winner who was fourth in the Turf Writers.
$200,000 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase (Gr. I). 2 5/8 miles over 14 fences, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2005. Far Hills Races. Far Hills, N.J. Fifth of seven races. First race post time 12:30 p.m. All starters carry 156 pounds under weight-for-age conditions.
The field in post position order with owner, trainer, jockey, morning line odds:
1. Mon Villez, Calvin Houghland, Bruce Miller, Chip Miller, 20-1
2. Three Carat, Jonathan Sheppard, Jonathan Sheppard, Danielle Hodsdon 10-1
3. Preemptive Strike, Polaris Stable, Paul Rowland, Robbie Walsh, 4-1
4. Understood, Whitewood Farm, Richard Valentine, Xavier Aizpuru, 15-1
5. McDynamo, Michael Moran, Sanna Hendriks, Jody Petty, 8-5
6. Hirapour, Eldon Farm, Doug Fout, Matt McCarron, 6-5