10/18/2012 1:47PM

Far Hills: Grand National headlines steeplechase racing's biggest day of the year

Barbara D. Livingston
Demonstrative is one of four Grade 1 winners in Saturday's $250,000 Grand National.

Spectators at Saturday’s Far Hills Races in New Jersey will see the red “R” on his jockey’s attire and cheer for Slip Away. It will have nothing to do with his status as champion steeplechaser of 2010 or because he is part of the far-reaching stable of Ken and Sarah Ramsey.

No, the fans like the silks, which bear a striking resemblance to the Rutgers University logo. But Slip Away is worthy of attention too. The 9-year-old gray gelding makes his first jump start of 2012 in the $250,000 Grand National, the feature on a six-race card worth $500,000. The richest day of the year in American jump racing draws 50,000 fans and the best Thoroughbreds who jump, all to benefit the Steeplechase Cancer Center in Somerville, N.J. Post time is 1 p.m. – check New Jersey Transit for special rail service.

There’s no parimutuel betting, but the racing packs plenty of impact.

No race means more than the Grand National, which lured 11 entrants, including four Grade 1 winners. Demonstrative, Spy in the Sky and Pierrot Lunaire – Grade 1 winners this year – look to secure a grip on the Eclipse Award, while spoilers lurk in several forms.

Trained by Tom Voss, Slip Away seeks a return to his best in his first jump start in more than a year. Paddy Young rides the veteran, who was second in the 2010 Grand National. Trainer Jonathan Sheppard entered three horses, led by the proven Divine Fortune and the upstart History Boy. Recent European imports Royal Bonsai, Charminster, You’re the Top, and Jack Cool add flavor and clout to the race, the latter three for leading U.S. owner Irv Naylor.

Little separates Demonstrative, Spy in the Sky and Pierrot Lunaire. The first two won at Saratoga. The latter comes off an upset of Spy in the Sky at Belmont Park, which Demonstrative missed when jockey Robbie Walsh was injured a race earlier. Matt McCarron gets aboard the 5-year-old Demonstrative, as Walsh is out the rest of the year with a hip injury.

“I loved him as a 3-year-old, and I thought then he had the potential to be a good horse,” said McCarron, who won two races on Demonstrative in 2010. “You don’t want to get it this way, but it’s every jockey’s dream to ride one of the favorites in the biggest race of the season.”