Photo: David Millins and Nicholas Canyon in the StanJames.com Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown. RTS Sports/Racing
75th Anniversary Event Raises Stakes with International Brown Advisory Cheltenham Challenge
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Two Euro racing legends are leading the UK contingency currently en route to Nashville with contenders in pursuit of the first leg of the million-dollar Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge. A horse who places first in both the Iroquois in Nashville this Saturday, May 14 and the Ryanair World Hurdle at Cheltenham Racecourse in England next March would win approximately $1 million, including the $500,000 Challenge bonus.
Trainer Willie Mullins of Ireland, who has won 52 times at Cheltenham on the way to 11 Irish championships, has nominated six-time Grade One winner Nichols Canyon for the Grade One Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle Stakes, to be ridden by arguably the leading jockey in the United Kingdom, Ruby Walsh. Mullins, who is competing in America for the first time, also plans to enter Shaneshill for the race.
“I think we need to internationalize jump racing, and so I am happy to support the Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge,” Mullins said.
Also in the field are two former Iroquois champions and Eclipse Award winners Demonstrative (2014) and Pierrot Lunaire (2009), along with leading steeplechase contender Rawnaq, 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 was the first American horse to win England’s Epsom Derby in the 19th century, and American horses and riders have historically performed very well in the United Kingdom. We’re obviously thrilled to have one of the UK’s top riders and trainers coming to run here.”
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. 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.
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. The Baltimore-based Brown Advisory has long been a sponsor of steeplechase races both in America and at Cheltenham, and the company’s CEO, Mike Hankin, is a respected owner known for fielding competitive horses on both sides.
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 towww.iroquoissteeplechase.org.