As Irv Naylor’s Rawnaq headed back to the barn after his stirring Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) victory on May 14, one question was left unanswered. Will he or won’t he?
The subject of the question was the Brown Advisory Cheltenham-Iroquois Challenge, a $500,000 prize to any horse able to win the Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) and the Cheltenham Festival’s Ryanair World Hurdle (Gr. 1) in a 12-month period.
Trainer Cyril Murphy, who had watched the epic battle on the Iroquois Steeplechase’s giant matrix board, accurately pointed out that the three-mile World Hurdle was 10 months distant, and a lot can happen in that time. How well he knew. Naylor’s 2015 Eclipse Award champion, Dawalan, went to the sidelines for the year after an early-spring injury.
Naylor, who shattered his own earnings record last year, offered a subtle and definitive answer to the big question on that shining afternoon in Nashville. With wife Diane beside him, Naylor said: “I think this horse will represent the United States well in England next year.”
It was a memorable quote at the conclusion of a memorable race that capped a memorable spring season. When the spring session concluded two weeks later at the Fair Hill Races in Maryland, Naylor had established yet another record.
For the first time ever, an owner had cracked the half-million- dollar mark in spring National Steeplechase Association races. By sweeping the two stakes races at the Virginia Gold Cup and two of Iroquois’ four stakes races, the Butler, Md., horseman and philanthropist had achieved stable earnings of $513,200.
To provide perspective to that mark, only two other owners have earned more than $500,000 in entire racing seasons. George Strawbridge Jr.’s Augustin Stables did it twice, in 2000 ($596,991, then the record) and 2001 ($541,417). Bill Pape, the champion owner in 2013, had purse earnings of $551,710 that year.
Murphy, who began training for Naylor two years earlier, had a big share of the purse earnings, $426,200, which placed him atop the trainers’ earnings board. Reigning champion trainer Jack Fisher led by wins, 13 to Murphy’s 12.
The Naylor stable won early and often. The stable had three wins on April 9 at Stoneybrook, and the following weekend won the My Lady’s Manor with Ebanour. Two weeks later, Rawnaq gave a jaw-dropping performance in the Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) at the Middleburg Spring Races.
The first big haul occurred on May 7 at the Virginia Gold Cup, where Charminster delivered a victory in the $75,000 David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) and Ebanour won the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup over timber. A week later at Iroquois, the Naylor team also accounted for the Margaret Currey Henley with One Lucky Lady.
Naylor’s record-setting spring season influenced the jockey standings, too. Jack Doyle, who rode Rawnaq, led the rider standings by earnings. Ross Geraghty, who rode One Lucky Lady, was tied in the win column with 2015 champion apprentice Connor Hankin and was third by purse earnings. Fourth on the money list was Gus Dahl, Ebanour’s regular rider.