In an epic battle through the Iroquois Steeplechase stretch, Irv Naylor’s Rawnaq turned back a world-class challenge from Shaneshill to win the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) on Saturday and qualify to compete for the $500,000 Brown Advisory Cheltenham-Iroquois Challenge next March.
“I think this horse will represent the United States well in England next year,” the owner declared after accepting the historic Iroquois trophy with trainer Cyril Murphy, jockey Jack Doyle, and his wife, Diane. The bonus is awarded to a horse who wins the Iroquois and the Ryanair World Hurdle (Gr. 1) in a 12-month period.
It was the second victory of the afternoon for Naylor and the second straight weekend in which he has claimed two major stakes. Earlier in the afternoon, his One Lucky Lady won the Margaret Currey Henley. Murphy also trained that winner. On May 7, they combined for victories in the David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) over hurdles with Charminster and the Virginia Gold Cup over timber with Ebanour.
Rawnaq’s triumph was his second graded victory of the year, after an impressive win in the Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) at the Middleburg Spring Races on April 23.
He was going up against world-class competition in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois with leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins sending over Nichols Canyon, third in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March. Shaneshill was a multiple winner this year, and both were regarded as the race favorites, with Rawnaq the third choice.
Rawnaq had to run every step of the three miles after keeping pace with Nichols Canyon for much of the race, before Shaneshill took up the running nearing the final fence.
Doyle shook up Rawnaq and urged his mount forward as they neared the last of 18 fences, by then clear of their competition. Rawnaq dug in and steadfastly held off Shaneshill, ridden by Danny Mullins, to win by a neck. Nichols Canyon, who made some jumping mistakes in midrace, held on well for third, three lengths farther back. Bruton Street US’s Scorpiancer, second in the Gwathmey, finished fourth.
Demonstrative, the two-time Iroquois winner and defending victor, faded on the final turn and finished fifth. Rawnaq, an Irish-bred purchased last summer, ran the Calvin Houghland Iroquois’ distance in 5:42.40 on firm turf.
Naylor, whose 2016 purse earnings now exceed $400,000, credited his entire team. “The jockey rode a superb race. He was always in the right place at the right time. The horse jumped superbly. The trainer had him in perfect condition. It all came together.”
To be sure, the competition was formidable, Naylor said, but on race day he realized that Rawnaq had a chance to take down the $120,000 first-place purse. “When we got here, we realized we had him as good as we could have him,” he said.
Murphy said Rawnaq probably will have the summer off before tackling the championship races in the fall, including the Grand National (Gr. 1), in which he finished third last year. “We’d have three months in the winter to prepare for Cheltenham,” he said.