The Willie Mullins-trained Nichols Canyon and Shaneshill have arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, ahead of the 75th Annual Iroquois Steeplechase Meeting this Saturday 14th May.
Both Irish horses are set to contest the US$200,000 Grade One Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle on Saturday.
If either is successful in the three-mile contest, they will be able eligible for a $500,000 bonus, the Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge, if going on to win the Grade One World Hurdle at The Festival at Cheltenham in March, 2017.
Nichols Canyon is a six-time Grade One winner and finished third in the Grade One Stan James Champion Hurdle over two miles at The Festival in March behind his stable companion Annie Power.
Shaneshill went close to victory at The Festival this year when the half-length runner-up in the Grade One RSA Chase over three miles.
Ruby Walsh, the 11-time Irish champion Jump jockey and the most successful jockey of all-time at The Festival with 52 winners, is set to partner Nichols Canyon with the trainer’s nephew and multiple Grade One-winning Danny Mullins taking the ride on Shaneshill. Both horses are owned by Andrea and Graham Wylie.
Mullins, Ireland’s 11-time champion Jump trainer, said: “Nichols Canyon and Shaneshill have arrived on the track and it’s so far, so good with them. We are happy with them.
“It was quite a tough trip as it was 15 hours airtime and then they had to go into quarantine. They are now out of quarantine.
“I will hopefully be travelling over later in the week. Ruby Walsh will ride Nichols Canyon with Danny Mullins on Shaneshill.
“We will see how conditions look on the track – hopefully the promised nice ground will be there.”
Mullins has yet to saddle a runner in the USA but is no stranger to international success, having won Japan’s very valuable Nakayama Grand Jump with Blackstairmountain in 2013.
His late father Paddy landed a major prize in the USA in 1990, when Grabel won the US$750,000 Dueling Grounds International Hurdle in southern Kentucky near the Tennessee border.
Also among the field of nine for the Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle Stakes are 2014 Eclipse Award winner Demonstrative (Richard Valentine/Darren Nagle), a multiple Grade One winner including the 2014 and 2015 renewals of the Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle, Italian Wedding (Jonathan Sheppard/Gerard Galligan), successful in the 2013 Grade One New York Turf Writers Cup as well as the 12-year-old Pierrot Lunaire (Bruce Miller/Bernie Dalton), who landed the Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle back in 2009.
Also set to go to post are Rawnaq (Cyril Murphy/Jack Doyle), a Grade Two winner in Ireland who made a good impression when winning the Grade Three Temple Gwathmey Handicap at Middleburg, 2015 Caroline Cup runner-up Syros (Jack Fisher/Sean McDermott), Tempt Me Alex (Elizabeth Voss/Gus Dahl) and Scorpiancer(Jack Fisher/Connor Hankin) who began his career with Rebecca Curtis in Wales and was successful the US$100,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle in October.
About The Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge
In November 2015, officials from the Iroquois Steeplechase Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, USA and Britain’s Cheltenham Racecourse announced a $500,000 bonus for any horse who could win both the US$200,000 (approximately £138,000) Grade One Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle and the World Hurdle within a year.
The Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge is straightforward: win the Grade One World Hurdle at The Festival at Cheltenham in March and the Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle, or vice versa, within 12 months.
Both contests take place over three miles, with the Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle part of the 75th Iroquois Steeplechase fixture on Saturday 14th May 2016, while the 2017 World Hurdle, worth at least £300,000 (approximately US$435,000), is provisionally set to take place on Thursday 16th March.
Over the last 40 years, various American horses and riders have competed with credit in the United Kingdom, including the late George Sloan, who became the only rider from the United States to win the British Amateur Championship in the 1977/78 season.
The legendary gelding Flatterer, a four-time consecutive Eclipse Award winner, was second in the 1987 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, while Blythe Miller partnered Lonesome Glory to win 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-bred horse to win the Derby at Epsom Downs, UK, in 1881 before retiring to stud at General William Harding’s Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville. Many of the horses who have won the Iroquois since 1941 descended from the race’s namesake.
The Challenge is an opportunity to attract more American horses to compete at The Festival and to offer English, Irish and European horses an opportunity on the world stage.