Ireland-based champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins is sending at least one and possibly two contenders to Nashville for the American leg of the million-dollar Brown Advisory Iroquois-Cheltenham Challenge.
The winner of both the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) and the Ryanair World Hurdle at Cheltenham Racecourse in England next March would win approximately $1 million, including the $500,000 Challenge bonus.
Mullins, champion jumps trainer for the past nine years, has nominated Nichols Canyon and Shaneshill to the three-mile race over National Fences at Percy Warner Park on Saturday, May 14. Expected to ride Nichols Bay is champion jockey Ruby Walsh.
“Both horses are well and could potentially go out to the USA. At the moment, probably Nichols Canyon is the horse we would hope to get out there, if not the two of them,” Mullins said. “I think we need to internationalize jump racing, and so I am happy to support the Brown Advisory Iroquois-Cheltenham Challenge.”
His two nominees to the Calvin Houghland Iroquois would be looking to win in Nashville and then target next year’s Ryanair World Hurdle with a total potential payday of approximately $1-million. Both the Calvin Houghland Iroquois and the Ryanair World Hurdle are three-mile races.
Both Mullin nominees 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.
Also nominated to the Calvin Hougland Iroquois were two former Iroquois winners and Eclipse Award champions: Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Demonstrative, a two-time Iroquois winner (2013 and 2015) and Mary Ann Houghland’s Pierrot Lunaire (2009).
Also nominated was Irv Naylor’s Rawnaq, an impressive winner of the Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3) on April 23. setting up the trans-Atlantic rivalry the Brown Advisory Challenge was designed to promote.
Iroquois Steeplechase Chairman Dwight Hall, himself a trainer, former jockey and National Steeplechase Association board member, said the Challenge appears to be tapping in to the competitive spirit of owners and trainers on both sides of the Atlantic, which ultimately benefits the sport worldwide.
“Throughout history, we’ve seen horses go back and forth and win, and we want to stoke that rivalry,” Hall said. “Launching this on the 75th Anniversary of the Iroquois is poignant – the race’s namesake came to Nashville from England in the 19th century.” Iroquois, who was bred in Pennsylvania, won the Epsom Derby in 1881. He spent his stud career at Belle Meade Plantation and was the U.S. champion sire in 1892.
Over the last 25 years, a handful of American horses and riders have competed with credit overseas, including George Sloan, who became the only jockey from the United States to win the British Amateur Championship in the 1970s. The legendary Flatterer, a four-time consecutive Eclipse Award winner, ran second at Cheltenham in the 1980s, and Blythe Miller on Lonesome Glory won at both Cheltenham and Iroquois in the 1990s.
The Cheltenham Festival has become one of England’s largest sporting events, attracting nearly 250,000 spectators to its annual four-day meet in March. The Challenge is an opportunity to attract more American horses to compete there, and to offer English, Irish and European horses a larger opportunity on the world stage.
Baltimore-based Brown Advisory has offered the Challenge to stoke international competition. The company’s CEO, Mike Hankin, is a respected owner known for fielding competitive horses on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Single tickets and limited infield tailgating spaces are still available for the Iroquois Steeplechase, known as “Nashville’s Rite of Spring Since 1941,” on May 14. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to www.iroquoissteeplechase.org.
Here are the 10 nominees to the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois:
Demonstrative. 2007 b. g., Elusive Quality–Loving Pride, by Quiet American. Owner: Jacqueline Ohrstrom. Trainer: Richard Valentine. 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). Finished third in the A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) before being pulled up in New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1). Scored his second victory in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1). 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 NSA rating)
Italian Wedding. 2005 b. g., Alphabet Soup–Effervescent, by Citidancer. Owner-trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. 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)
Nichols Canyon (GB). 2010 b. g., Authorized (Ire)—Zam Zoom, by Dalakhani. Owner: Andrea and Graham Wylie. Trainer: Willie Mullins. 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.
Pierrot Lunaire. 2004 b. g., War Chant–Playact (Ire), by Hernando (Fr). Owner: Mary Ann Houghland. 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)
Rawnaq (Ire). 2007 b. g., Azamour (Ire)—Sharemata, by Dayoun (Ire). Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Cyril Murphy. 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)
Rudyard K. 2009 b. g., Kipling—Two Bridges, by Major Impact. Owner: Armata Stables. Trainer: Todd Wyatt. Breeder: Frances Hill Myers (Oh.) 2016 record: 1-0-0-1, $5,000. 2015 record: No starts. 2014 record: 3-1-2-0, $57,000. Finished third in Middleburg Spring’s 2016 Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3). Coming back after a year’s absence. Won 2014 Saratoga allowance hurdle in final 2014 start. Just missed in Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes at Nashville’s Iroquois Steeplechase after respectable second in Dogwood Classic allowance hurdle at Colonial Downs. (125)
Scorpiancer (Ire). 2009 b. g., Scorpion (Ire)—Janebailey, By Silver Patriarch. Owner: Bruton Street-US. Trainer: Jack Fisher. 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)
Shaneshill (Ire). 2009 b. g., King’s Theatre (Ire)—Darabaka, by Dayoun. Owners Andrea and Graham Wylie. Trainer: Willie 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.
Syros. 2008 b. g., Dynaformer—Meridiana (Ger), by Lomitas (GB). Owner: Gil Johnston. Trainer: Jack Fisher. 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)
Tempt Me Alex. 2009 b. g.., Afleet Alex—Attemptress, by Meadowlake. Owner: Robert A. Kinsley. Trainer: Elizabeth Voss. 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)