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Far Hills highlights Fall Steeplechase racing calendar

The horses await the starter's call at the Far Hills Race meeting in Far Hills, N.J. Credits: Lillian Shupe

Steeplechase racing is underway for Fall 2017.

From as far north as Geneseo, N.Y. and as far south as Charleston, S.C., mini-vans are being filled with coolers and delicacies. Horses are being trained and groomed.

Twelve race committees and battalions volunteers are preparing to receive thousands of racing fans — and just plain party goers — to an afternoon in the country filled with excitement and camaraderie.

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The goal of this outdoor sporting life is always to raise money for charitable causes within the host community.

The oldest and largest of 12 carded race meetings on the fall fixture card will be the 97th running of the Far Hills Races at Moorland Farm in the bucolic village of Far Hills, N.J. — an hour's ride (or a comfortable train trip) from New York City.

When the 35,000 or so turn out for an afternoon of racing at Far Hills, they are continuing the growth of the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital's “Steeplechase Cancer Center” at nearby Somerville for which the race meeting has banked over $20 million since the present race committee took over the management.

The meeting, which is traditionally held the third Saturday in October, is an outgrowth of the days when the Essex Fox Hounds moved out of Montclair, N.J. in search of more open country over which pursue their sport.

Old time fox hunters remember the days when 'We fox hunted with our race horses and raced our hunting horses' at what was known as 'The Essex Races.'

Nowadays, the horses that will race at Far Hills for $800,000 in purse money are largely converted from those that race at the major tracks on the flat.

However, National Steeplechase Association sanctioned races require not only speed and endurance, but the ability to jump over four-foot, four-inch simulated brush obstacles at the rate of about six National Fences per mile in races from just over two miles to some as long as four miles.

In some of the sanctioned races, solid post and rail fences are substituted for the simulated brush.

The Far Hills meeting is on a path being charted by co-chairmen Guy Torsilieri and Ronald Kennedy to a purse level of $1 million for the race meeting's centennial in 2020 “or possibly before that,” said Torsilieri.

The big guns of the flat racing world who lecture the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing on how things should be done should well take note the Far Hills Races have raised all that money for the hospital without the benefit of pari-mutuel wagering.

Legalized wagering — in order boost purses, attract more horses and owners, draw more spectators and, as a result, increase donations to charities — has been introduced with moderate success at the Virginia Gold Cup meeting at The Plains, Va. in the spring.

The Far Hills Race Committee made a serious attempt at legalizing wagering on their races this fall. However, “testing of the fiber optic cable we need for the wagering windows in the meadow and on the hillside” and hardware related problems “threw up too many obstacles for us to be ready this year,” said Torsilieri.

With their logistical problems resolved and state licensing requirements met, the race committee reports the meeting is on course for on-course wagering in 2018.

Even without on-course wagering, the owners and trainers of steeplechase horses will be pointing their charges toward Far Hills.

Three of the carded races this year have increased purses. The Grade 1 Grand National's purse has been boosted to $400,000.

That sum makes the race of 2-5/8 miles over 14 National Fences the richest steeplechase race in North America.

Fillies and mares will by running for a $75,000 purse in the Peapack at 2-1/8 miles over National Fences. That represents a $25,000 fo the ladies over previous years.

Novice 'chasers, those that won their first race over jumps after March 1 of last year, will run at 2-21/2 miles over National Fences for $125,000, a $25,000 purse hike.

All is not lost in the European owners and trainers that those folks in Far Hills have put $800,000 n purses on the line. Rumor has it that that at least on trainer has reserved three stalls on a west-bound aircraft — one each for a filly, a novice horse and a stake horse.

'Chasing fans can expect the trans-Atlantic appeal to spread before Far Hills' entries close on Oct. 9.

Steeplechasing Calendar

Here, in chronological order is the “hunt meeting” schedule for Fall, 2017.

Sept. 23. Shawan Downs, Hunt Valley, Md., 1 p.m., $110,000 Total Purses: 6 races.

Sept. 24. Foxfield Fall, Charlottesville, Va., 1:30 p.m., $60,000 Total Purses: 5 races.

Sept. 30. Tryon International Equestrian Center, Mill Spring, N.C., 12:30 p.m., $150,000 Total Purses: 5 races.

Oct. 14. Genesee Valley Hunt Races, Geneseo, N.Y., 1 p.m., $45,000 Total Purses: 4 races featuring $30,000 Genesee Valley Hunt Cup (Timber).

Oct. 14. Virginia Fall Races, Middleburg, Va., 1 p.m., $165,000 Total Purses: 8 races featuring $40,000 National Sporting Library and Museum Cup.

Oct. 21. Far Hills Race Meeting, Far Hills, N.J., 1 p.m., Total Purses: $800,000, 7 races featuring $75,000 Peapack Filly and Mare Stakes, $125,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle (Novice) and $400,000, Grade 1 Grand National and $50,000 New Jersey Hunt Cup (Timber).

Oct. 28. Aiken Fall Steeplechase, Aiken, S.C., 1 p.m., Total Purses:: $80,000, 5 races.

Oct. 28. International Gold Cup, The Plains, Va. 12 P.M., Total Purses:: $395,000, 7 races featuring $40,000 Steeplethon Stakes (Timber), $75,000, Grade 2 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial and $75,000 International Gold Cup (Timber).

Nov. 4. Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, Ga., 1 p.m., Total Purses: $170,000, 5 races featuring $75,000 AFLAC Supreme Hurdle (Novice).

Nov. 4. Montpelier Hunt Races, Montpelier Sta., Va., 12:30 p.m., Total Purses: $120,000, 5 races.

Nov. 5. Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, Unionville, Pa. 1:30 p.m., Total Purses: $70,000. 4 races featuring $35,000 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup (Timber).

Nov. 12. Steeplechase of Charleston at Stono Ferry, Hollywood, S.C., 1 p.m., Total Purses: $75,000, 5 races.

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