Leading Irish jumps trainer Gordon Elliott knows how to win in America, and he will have three contenders in three races at Saturday’s Iroquois Steeplechase at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park.
Last year, the County Meath-based horseman shipped Jury Duty into Far Hills, N.J., for a victory in the $450,000 Grand National (Gr. 1), America’s richest steeplechase race.
A year earlier, he imported Zanjabeel to win Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle. For new owners, Zanjabeel won last year’s Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) and was voted the year’s Eclipse Award as North America’s champion steeplechase horse.
Elliott’s leading prospect for Saturday is novice Chief Justice, who has been acquired by leading American owner Irv Naylor. The four-year-old will compete in the Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle, the afternoon’s third race.
The English-bred gelding reeled off four wins over hurdles last year, finished in midpack in the Cheltenham Festival’s Boodles Fred Winter Hurdle Handicap in March, and won his getaway race on the Grand National program at Aintree on April 6.
Three-time champion jockey Davy Russell, who has been aboard Chief Justice for many of his starts, will be in the saddle on Saturday.
Russell also has the mount on Elliott-trained Markham, who will be horse to beat in the fifth race, the George Sloan and John Sloan Jr. Hurdle for maidens over fences.
Now owned by Maryland-based Rosbrian Farm and Half Married Syndicate, the Kentucky-bred six-year-old has three victories on the flat and placings in three hurdle races since last September.
Irish riding sensation Jack Kennedy will be aboard Rosbrian’s Stooshie in the Bright Hour, a three-mile ratings handicap for horses with National Steeplechase Association ratings of 125 or lower. The six-year-old Irish-bred most recently was fifth in an April 11 steeplechase at Limerick for trainer Elliott.
Kennedy, now 20, also is no stranger to American winner’s circles. He rode Zanjabeel to victories in the 2017 Foxbrook and last fall’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) at Belmont Park.
The richest race meet on the National Steeplechase Association’s spring calendar, the Iroquois Steeplechase has become a target for overseas-based owners and trainers. In 2016, Willie Mullins shipped in two leading contenders for the Calvin Houghland Iroquois, but they could not get past Naylor’s Rawnaq, who was voted the year’s Eclipse champion.