The Willie Mullins-trained Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon finished second and third in the US$200,000 Grade One Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle at Percy Warner Park, Nashville, Tennessee, USA, on Saturday, May 14.
Shaneshill, the mount of Danny Mullins, who raced in third for most of the race as Nichols Canyon led or ran second under Ruby Walsh, laid down a determined challenge to the eventual winner Rawnaq who spent much of his career in Ireland.
However, though Shaneshill closed strongly after the last, nine-year-old Rawnaq, owned by Irvin Naylor, trained by Cyril Murphy and ridden by Jack Doyle, held on at the line by the diminishing margin of a neck. The winning time on ground described as good was 5m 42.40s.
Rawnaq was always in the first two of the field of nine in 75th Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle over three miles and 18 obstacles. He raced in second before taking up the running after the first mile. There were three lengths back to the third Nichols Canyon. The first three were clear of the fourth.
Irivin Naylor is keen to go for the $500,000 bonus, the Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge, which is activated if the winner captures the Grade One World Hurdle at The Festival at Cheltenham in March, 2017.
The owner said: “There were so many good horses in the race and our jockey rode a superb race. He was always in the right place at the right time.”
“The horse jumped flawlessly and the trainer had him tuned to the highest level. It all came together for this most important race. Rawnaq gave it all and you cannot ask for more of a horse than to give his all.”
“He is the best and I think he will represent the US well at Cheltenham. I look forward to going forward with this challenge.”
Jack Doyle commented: “That was great. He jumped brilliantly and galloped all the way to the line. He was probably getting a little bit lonely in front and when the other horse came to me he picked up again.”
“It is amazing as we were coming here today as underdogs a little bit but Cyril said he never had the horse better and he was right.”
Cyril Murphy said: “Satisfying, isn’t it. He was in the form of his life coming here. He was not going to improve over what he did today. We were riding to win today and we got what we deserved.”
“There is now 10 months of thinking to do. We will see – we have a lot of things to overcome to get there but it is nice that we can if we want to – I think he would be good enough.”
“Our schedule is pretty much set as it is – I would not have thought he would be running over the summer. Far Hills at New Jersey in October would be our target and then we have got four months of winter sitting around doing nothing.”
Rawnaq’s triumph was his second graded victory of the year, after an impressive win in the Grade Three Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg on April 23.
Willie Mullins, Ireland’s champion Jump trainer, commented: “I was absolutely delighted with the efforts of the racecourse staff who made the ground just right.”
“Nichols Canyon did not jump that well and maybe wasn’t best suited by going left-handed, while Shaneshill ran a big race.”
“However, for both horses this was probably one race too many, but we look forward to returning next year.”
Nichols Canyon, a six-time Grade One winner, finished third in the Grade One Stan James Champion Hurdle over two miles at The Festival in March behind his stable companion Annie Power.
Shaneshill went close to victory at The Festival this year when the half-length runner-up in the Grade One RSA Chase over three miles.
Ballydoyle has been well backed this week 2/1 from 5/2 with Bet365 for the Coronation Cup at Royal Ascot next month.
Twilight Son (8/1 with Boyles Sport) is all the rage for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on the Saturday of the Royal meeting.
Yours In Sport!