Rick Samuels

Percussionist Drums Up Grand National Triumph

Denmark-based 9-year-old defeats 11 rivals in rich hurdle event at Far Hills, N.J.

(from NSA report)

In his first United States start after a successful career on the flat and over fences in Europe, Percussionist exploded through the stretch to win the $250,000 Grand National (NSA-I), featured race of the Far Hills Races Oct. 23 in New Jersey.

Ridden by regular jockey James Patrick O’Farrell, the Irish-bred 9-year-old son of Sadler’s Wells left no doubt about the outcome as he rolled to a decisive victory over Slip Away, who ran a strong race in a supporting role.

Lead Us Not finished third in a field of 12 for America’s richest steeplechase race at the central New Jersey course. The meeting attracted an estimated crowd of 40,000 on a partly cloudy afternoon.

Owned by Morten Bushtop and Old Friends Stable, Percussionist ran the Grand National’s 2 5/8 miles in 5:00.40 on firm turf. Software executive Busktop and his wife care for Percussionist at their small yard outside Copenhagen, Denmark, exercising the the bay gelding before going to their jobs each day. Percussionist runs in the name of trainer Hanne Bechmann.

The connections had made a U.S. invasion last year with General Ledger, who finished second in the Grand National. Busktop said he believed that Percussionist would run well over the lush Far Hills course, but his only concern was the firm turf, because Percussionist favors softer ground. But the irrigated Far Course course had plenty of give, and Percussionist ran well over it.

Preemptive Strike and jockey Jody Petty led for much of the journey, opening a solid advantage for the first circuit of the Far Hills course, with Slip Away, owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, and jockey Paddy Young tracking them in second and an eager Class Bopper third.

O’Farrell said that Percussionist only became interested in running on the turn into the backstretch the final time and began to pick up horses. Preemptive Strike gave ground grudgingly to Slip Away approaching the final fence, and Lead Us Not was advancing under Brian Crowley. But Percussionist launched a withering move that determined the result in a few strides.

Preemptive Strike held on for fourth and Dictina's Boy finished fifth. Red Letter Day, fourth in last year’s Grand National, finished sixth, followed by Decoy Daddy, Seer and Chivite. Class Bopper, Tax Ruling and Mixed Up, the 2009 Eclipse Award winner as the nation's top steeplechase horse, were pulled up.

Percussionist, who has won his last three starts, increased his career earnings to $709,537 with the winning purse of $150,000. He captured the Emirates Airline Yorkshire Cup (Eng-II) at York in 2006. Swettenham Stud bred the winner, who is out of the Silver Hawk mare Magnificent Style. He has won 11 of 39 starts overall.

National Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, who saddled Lead Us Not, was honored before the first race for his 1,000th victory over fences that came when Arcadius won the $100,000 Helen Haskell Sampson (NSA-I) at Monmouth Park Sept. 25.

Within two hours, he had added two more victories to the total. He struck first with his homebred One Giant Step, who took a big step forward in winning the $25,000 Harry E. Harris Sport of Kings maiden hurdle.

Sheppard’s big strike of the afternoon occurred with Mary Ann Houghland’s Nationbuilder, who closed under strong pressure from Crowley to win the $100,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle by a nose over a game All Together.