Andrea and Graham Wylie’s Nichols Canyon is on course for a return trip to Nashville and a date with destiny in the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) on May 13.
At stake will be the $500,000 TVV Capital Iroquois-Cheltenham Challenge, a bonus paid to the winner of the Calvin Houghland Iroquois and the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle (Eng-Gr. 1) in the same 12-month period. Purses and bonus total approximately $800,000.
Nichols Canyon claimed the first leg of the challenge on March 16 with a courageous charge up Cheltenham’s heartbreak hill to notch a dramatic victory in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
The Wylies and trainer Willie Mullins confirmed to Iroquois Steeplechase Chairman Dwight Hall that they are planning a return to Nashville’s Percy Warner Park for the Calvin Houghland Iroquois. Last May, Nichols Canyon finished third in the three-mile spring classic.
“They are very much looking forward to a rematch,” said Hall, who was at Cheltenham for the Stayers’ Hurdle and visited with the champion trainer at his yard in Ireland last week.
Shortly after the Stayers’ Hurdle, Mullins was quoted as saying that he was considering one more start for Nichols Canyon, possibly at Punchestown in Ireland, before the trip to the United States.
Nichols Canyon pursued a similar but more testing course during the 2015-2016 season,with three starts before Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle and then the Aintree Hurdle in early April. In both of those top-rated races, Nichols Canyon finished third to champion Annie Power.
In the 2016-2017 season, he had a first and second in Irish Group 1 hurdles before falling in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Sent over a longer distance, the seven-year-old was flawless in the three-mile Stayers’ Hurdle. Champion jockey Ruby Walsh had him always in good position and took a path on the stands-side rail for the final quarter-mile. Nichols Canyon jumped the final hurdle in stride and charged relentlessly up Cheltenham’s fabled run-in to overtake longshot Rockerfeller and win by three-quarters of a length.
The Calvin Houghland Iroquois will cap the richest day of horse racing ever in Nashville and will be the richest spring meet on the National Steeplechase Association schedule with $525,000 in purses.
A Music City tradition for more than three-quarters of a century, the Iroquois Steeplechase annually attracts crowds exceeding 25,000 and supports the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University. The Iroquois has raised more than $10 million for the hospital since 1981.