Late Scratch at Cheltenham for Eclipse Award-Winning Rawnaq Opens the Field for May 13 TVV Capital Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge
NASHVILLE, Tenn. and CHELTENHAM, England – It couldn’t have been scripted any better: The American horse Rawnaq that won last year’s Iroquois Steeplechase by a neck, beating leading Irish horses Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon, went on to win the Eclipse Award. This spring, he was set to compete for the $500,000 bonus at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
An injury knocked Rawnaq from the field, and Nichols Canyon made a dramatic front-stretch push to win the 2017 G1 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, qualifying to travel to Nashville again in May to make a run in the G1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle Stakes at the $500,000 TVV Capital Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge.
Legendary Irish jockey Ruby Walsh, who had ridden Nichols Canyon in Nashville and Rawnaq in a victory in America’s Grand National at Far Hills, N.J., was looking forward to the rematch, telling Daily Racing Form that he was “the best steeplechase horse in America.” Now the opportunity exists for another American horse to shine on the world stage, stoking the trans-Atlantic rivalry the Challenge set out to reignite.
Iroquois Chairman and National Steeplechase Association Board Member Dwight Hall cites the longstanding tradition of competition, and the heroes who have come before.
“Over the last 25 years, a handful of American horses and riders have competed with credit in the United Kingdom, including George Sloan, who became the only jockey from the United States to win the British Amateur Championship in the 1970s,” Hall says. “The legendary gelding 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.”
More recently, the Calvin Houghland-owned Pierrot Lunaire came over from England to win the Iroquois Steeplechase in 2009, on his way to winning the Eclipse Award in 2012. The Iroquois race is named for a horse that was the first American to win the English Derby in 1881, before retiring to stud at General William Harding’s Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville. All but a handful of horses that have won the Iroquois since 1941 descended from the race’s namesake. Two-time Iroquois winner Good Night Shirt (2007, 2008) was this year inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame.
A crowd gathered in Nashville in March to watch the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham, and a roar erupted as Nichols Canyon pulled away on the home stretch. Afterward, Iroquois Race Committee Member and steeplechase horse owner Gigi Lazenby – having built her own track record against top competition – said it best:
“As American owners and trainers, we understand that (Nichols Canyon trainer) Willie Mullins is coming for us,” she told the group. “As was demonstrated last year, American horses can certainly compete with the best the world has to offer. All of this elevates the sport to a new level, and we couldn’t be more excited.”
Nominations for the Iroquois Steeplechase are due May 1.
About the Iroquois Steeplechase
The Iroquois Steeplechase is an iconic sporting event that has been Nashville’s rite of spring since 1941, attracting more than 25,000 spectators to watch the best horses and riders in the world race over hurdles on a 1.5-mile turf track. Held the second Saturday of each May at Percy Warner Park, the Iroquois Steeplechase is Music City’s annual celebration of time-honored traditions, Tennessee hospitality and Southern fashions.
Those who attend enjoy areas for families, well-appointed tents and individually organized tailgates where the emphasis is on race day pickings, larger-than-life hats, specialty drinks by Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and crowd-pleasing recipes. More importantly, guests support a cause at the heart of the event: Since being designated as the official charity in 1981, the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt has received more than $10 million from Iroquois Steeplechase proceeds.
For information on tickets and other race day details, visit www.iroquoissteeplechase .org.