Two formidable hurdlers from the stable of top Irish jumps trainer Willie Mullins will line up against an impressive American contingent headed by two-time winner Demonstrative for the richest-ever edition of the Calvin Houghland Iroquois at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park on Saturday.
The $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois, the richest race on the National Steeplechase Association’s spring racing schedule, carries new significance this year as the kick-off contest for the 2016-2017 edition of the Brown Advisory Cheltenham-Iroquois Challenge.
The Challenge, designed to foster international competition over fences, offers a $500,000 bonus to any horse that wins the Calvin Houghland Iroquois and the Ryanair World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival within a 12-month period. The Cheltenham Festival is held in mid-March.
The Calvin Houghland Iroquois will conclude a star-studded afternoon of jump racing for the 75th anniversary edition of the Iroquois Steeplechase. Also on the program are the $75,000 Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes, the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley for fillies and mares, and the $50,000 Mason Houghland Memorial over timber fences. First post time is 1 p.m.
Mullins, the dominant trainer in Anglo-Irish jump racing with championships in the last nine years, will unleash Nichols Canyon and Shaneshill on the Calvin Houghland Iroquois. They will be looking to win in Nashville and then target the World Hurdle with a potential payday of $1-million next March. Both the Calvin Houghland Iroquois and the Ryanair World Hurdle are three-mile races.
Both Mullin entrants are owned by Andrea and Graham Wylie, an English technology entrepreneur. Nichols Canyon finished third to Mullins-trained champion Annie Power in Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle and the Aintree Hurdle. Last season, Nichols Canyon won five of six starts.
Shaneshill has had a busy 2016 with a victory and two second-place finishes in five starts. The seven-year-old finished second to 2016 Ryanair World Hurdle winner Thistlecrack in the Liverpool Stayers Hurdle at Aintree on April 9.
Champion jockey Ruby Walsh will ride Nichols Canyon, and Danny Mullins will be aboard Shaneshill.
Returning to Nashville for a chance at a third Calvin Houghland Iroquois victory is Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Demonstrative, the reigning winner who also won in 2013. Trained by Richard Valentine, the 2014 Eclipse Award champion will be making his first start over fences this year, and Darren Nagle will be in the saddle.
In pursuit of a second victory is Pierrot Lunaire, who won for Calvin Houghland in 2009 and now is owned by his widow, Mary Ann Houghland. Trainer Bruce Miller will put Bernie Dalton in the saddle of the 2013 Eclipse Award champion.
Champion owner Irv Naylor had a remarkable run last weekend with three feature-race victories and more than $120,000 in purses. On Saturday, he will be aiming for the Calvin Houghland’s $120,000 first-place money with Rawnaq, impressive winner of the Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) in Virginia on April 23. Trained by Cyril Murphy, Rawnaq will be ridden by Jack Doyle, last year’s leading jockey by purse earnings.
Champion trainer Jack Fisher entered Bruton Street-US’s Scorpiancer, who finished second to Rawnaq despite missing two weeks of training in the winter and spring. Connor Hankin will ride.
Fisher also entered Syros, a veteran competitor owned by Chattanooga resident Gil Johnston. Sean McDermott will ride.
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard entered his Italian Wedding, who would be making his first start in 20 months. Gerard Galligan will ride the winner of the 2013 New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1).
Here is the field for the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1). Post positions will be drawn on Thursday morning. The horses’ National Steeplechase Association ratings are in parentheses at the end of their profiles.
Nichols Canyon (GB). 2010 b. g., Authorized (Ire)—Zam Zoom, by Dalakhani. Owner: Andrea and Graham Wylie. Trainer: Willie Mullins. Jockey: Ruby Walsh. Breeder: Rabbah Bloodstock Ltd. (GB). 2016 NSA record: No starts. Has strung together three straight third-place finishes in 2016, most notably in Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, beaten 4 1/2 lengths by Annie Power. Also third in Aintree Hurdle and Irish Champion Hurdle. Won Ryanair December Hurdle to close five-win 2015 season.
Shaneshill (Ire). 2009 b. g., King’s Theatre (Ire)—Darabaka, by Dayoun. Owners Andrea and Graham Wylie. Trainer: Willie Mullins. Jockey: Danny Mullins. Breeder: Declan Johnson (Ire). 2016 NSA record: No starts. Won his first start of 2016, an allowance steeplechase in Ireland, and had two second-place finishes, in RSA Steeplechase at Cheltenham and Liverpool Stayers Hurdle at Aintree.
Scorpiancer (Ire). 2009 b. g., Scorpion (Ire)—Janebailey, By Silver Patriarch. Owner: Bruton Street-US. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Jockey: Connor Hankin. Breeder: Mary O’Connor (Ire). 2016 record: 1-0-1-0, $9,000. 2015 NSA record: 2-2-0-0, $75,000. Finished second in Middleburg Spring’s 2016 Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3). Won 2015 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle after dominant victory in Shawan Downs Ratings Handicap. Made his U.S. debut with a fourth-place finish in a flat race for hurdlers at Suffolk Downs on Sept. 5. Lightly raced six-year-old won maiden over hurdles in January at Ludlow. (133)
Syros. 2008 b. g., Dynaformer—Meridiana (Ger), by Lomitas (GB). Owner: Gil Johnston. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Jockey: Sean McDermott. Breeders: Jon and Sarah Kelly (Ky.) 2016 record: 1-0-0-0, $1,200. 2015 record: 7-1-1-1, $81,750. 2014 NSA record: 9-2-3-2, $90,600. Began 2016 with sixth in Middleburg Spring Ratings Handicap. Finished third in Steeplechase at Callaway’s 2015 AFLAC Supreme Hurdle. Finished sixth in Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle, Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1), and Saratoga’s New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1). Won Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes before fourth in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes. Finished a closing second in the 2015 Carolina Cup. (121)
Demonstrative. 2007 b. g., Elusive Quality–Loving Pride, by Quiet American. Owner: Jacqueline Ohrstrom. Trainer: Richard Valentine. Jockey: Darren Nagle. Breeder: Gainsborough Farm (Ky.) 2015 NSA record: 5-1-0-2, $112,500. 2014 record: 6-3-1-1, $362,500. Concluded 2015 season with third in Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) after ninth in Grand National (Gr. 1). Scored his second victory in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1)in 2015. Secured 2014 Eclipse Award with consecutive Grade 1 victories in New York Turf Writers, Lonesome Glory Handicap, and Grand National. Also won 2012 New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1) and Colonial Cup (Gr. 1). Was 2010 three-year-old champion. (150)
Rawnaq (Ire). 2007 b. g., Azamour (Ire)—Sharemata, by Dayoun (Ire). Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Cyril Murphy. Jockey: Jack Doyle. Breeder: Jim Monaghan (Ire). 2016 record: 1-1-0-0, $30,000. 2015 NSA record: 2-0-1-1, $48,000. Won his 2016 debut in Middleburg Spring’s Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3) impressively. In his first U.S. start, closed gamely to finish third in Far Hills’ Grand National (Gr. 1), beaten a length, then finished second in Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1). Won an allowance hurdle at Down Royal in June and then finished close second in Bellewstown handicap hurdle stakes. Lost rider in the Guinness Galway Handicap Hurdle. (155)
Pierrot Lunaire. 2004 b. g., War Chant–Playact (Ire), by Hernando (Fr). Owner: Mary Ann Houghland. Jockey: Bernie Dalton. Trainer: Bruce Miller. Breeder: Skymarc Farm (Ky.). 2015 record: 2-0-0-0, $6,000. 2014 record: 1-0-0-0, $7,500. Finished fifth in 2015 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) after seventh in Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3). In only 2014 start, finished fourth in Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1), a race he had won in 2009. Locked up 2012 Eclipse Award with victory in Grand National at Far Hills, N.J., after stunning 48.75-1 win by a nose in Belmont’s Lonesome Glory (Gr. 1). (135)
Italian Wedding. 2005 b. g., Alphabet Soup–Effervescent, by Citidancer. Owner-trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. Jockey: Gerard Galligan. Breeder: Jonathan Sheppard (Fla.) 2015 record: No starts. 2014 record: 4-0-0-1, $24,000. Making first start since third in 2014 New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1), a race he won in 2013. Finished sixth in Saratoga’s 2014 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) after fifth in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1). (136)
Tempt Me Alex. 2009 b. g.., Afleet Alex—Attemptress, by Meadowlake. Owner: Robert A. Kinsley. Trainer: Elizabeth Voss. Jockey: Gus Dahl. Breeder: Robert A. Kinsley (Pa.) 2015 record: 1-0-1-0, $6,300. In his only 2015 start, finished close second in Iroquois Steeplechase Ratings Handicap. Won the 2014 Bright Hour at Iroquois. (121)