Tan Jay returned to the steepchase wars here today for the first time since November and turned in a sizzling performance over 2 1/2 miles and 17 jumps to win the $10,000-added National Steeplechase Handicap by 4 3/4 lengths over favored Happy Intellectual with Breaking Dawn another three lenghts back.

Life's Illusion, a 1975 Eclipse Award winner making her first start since the Colonial Cup was pulled up after the fifth fence because of a broken saddle tree.

It was a tought race for Life's Illusion rider, Doug Fout, who had been flown to the race after graduating from St. James's School in Hagerstown this morning.

Tom Skiffington, who moves into the lead among the steeplechase jockeys by winning four races today - all of them for Mrs. Miles Valentine and trainer W. Burling Cocks - rated Tan Jay easily in third place over the first 15 fences. The pair grabbed the lead from Happy Intellectual as they landed two fences from home.

"It worked out just perfect," said Skiffington, who was content to let Joe Aitcheson on Happy Intellectual and John Cushman on Breaking Dawn battle each other - at times neck and neck - during the first 2 1/4 miles of the race.

Tan Jay had the benefit of six pounds over Happy Intellectual, the 11-year-old Mike Smithwick - trained chaser which was going for its third victory of the year over jumps.

It was a fine return to racing for Tan Jay, the 5-year-old chestnut which had run up a sensational record winning six of 13 starts over a two-year period. At one time the Noble Jay gelding won six in a row, unusual consistency for a steeplechaser.

A crowd of 11, 020 was on hand for the closing session of Fair Hill's spring meeting, the most successful in its history with the two-day batting total reaching $482,335, a record for this steeplechase track.