10/20/2011 2:38PM

Grand National: Tax Ruling leads other title contenders


The Breeders’ Cup may be two weeks away, but another Thoroughbred division takes its championship swing Saturday in New Jersey.

With total purses of $450,000, the 91st Far Hills Races showcases the best steeplechasers in training, headed by a competitive field of 14 in the Grade 1, $250,000 Grand National. Run at 2 5/8 miles, the Grand National is the fourth of six races on the card, which has a first post of 1 p.m., and it will go a long way toward deciding year-end honors.

Tax Ruling holds the strongest hand. An 8-year-old trained by Brianne Slater for Irv Naylor, Tax Ruling won the Grade 1 Iroquois in May before taking his customary summer break and tuning up for the Grand National with a training flat win Sept. 24. He has made two starts in the Grand National, placing third in 2009 and pulling up last year.

“I couldn’t be happier with how he’s coming into the race,” said Slater, a former assistant to trainer Sanna Hendriks. “With him, I think it’s more of a mental thing. If he’s doing well and happy, he’ll run well. We schooled him Monday at Fair Hill − more to freshen him up, do something different with him than anything − and he really enjoyed it.”

While every other runner on the day must cross the Delaware River to get to Far Hills, one will cross the Hudson. Mabou ships from Aqueduct for trainer David Jacobson, who claimed the horse at Saratoga for $30,000 and promptly won the Grade 1 New Your Turf Writers Cup one start later Aug. 25. The win was Jacobson’s first in a steeplechase. Mabou prepped in a flat race at Belmont Park on Oct. 7, finishing sixth under Eddie Castro in a starter handicap going 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

“He got into one pace, and that’s all he did, kind of stayed that fast,” said Jacobson, who trains Mabou for Drawing Away Stable. “Eddie Castro had trouble pulling him up afterward. He’s been training regularly. He’s good, and we’re looking forward to something new.”

Trainer Jonathan Sheppard entered five, headed by Grade 2 winner Divine Fortune. A son of Royal Anthem, Divine Fortune won the A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga in 2010 and 2011 and could leap into the championship picture with a victory.

Arcadius makes his first jump start since taking a Grade 1 at Monmouth Park last September. A 7-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway, he has not been worse than third in his last six starts and tuned up with a second in a training flat race Sept. 25.

The previous two winners of the Grand National also signed on. Percussionist shipped from Denmark to win last year’s running and was purchased by Naylor. A 10-year-old gelding by Sadler’s Wells, he was fourth in his only start this year. Your Sum Man, a 9-year-old Irish import, won the 2009 Grand National in his U.S. debut for trainer Tom Voss. Your Sum Man finished second and third in two starts this year.

Another Irish import, Black Jack Blues, won a restricted stakes in Virginia on his U.S. debut Oct. 1, leading at every call for trainer J.W. Delozier and Naylor, who has four runners in the race. Black Jack Blues steps up in class but has won four times this year.

The Grand National goes to the post at 3 p.m.

◗ Other stakes on the day include a $75,000 novice hurdle, a $50,000 filly-and-mare hurdle, a $50,000 timber race, and a $25,000 stakes for 3-year-old hurdlers

◗ Researcher, who earned $1.3 million on the flat, runs in $25,000 maiden hurdle, which also lured Grade 3 flat winners Memorial Maniac and Ice Bear.