Throwback Thursday – Feb. 20

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American steeplechasing fans rejoiced at the news that top European runner Footpad is joining the Jack Fisher barn.

Coming to the U.S. with five Grade 1 victories to his name, including the Arkle at Cheltenham by an easy 14 lengths, the gelding is sure to shake up an already exciting steeplechasing season.

“We’ll evaluate him when he gets here and make a decision,” Fisher told Joe Clancy for an article that appeared here Feb. 17. “Where do I prep this horse if I want to make the Iroquois? I really don’t want to prep him in the Temple Gwathmey (a $100,000 handicap at Middleburg in April). That’s a problem. We’ll wait and see. I don’t think he’s a Saratoga horse. He’s a Far Hills horse.”

Footpad is far from the only top class European to start fresh in the U.S. with multiple Eclipse Award winners getting their start across the Atlantic this century.

Rawnaq had shown to be a talented hurdler in Europe with seven victories over obstacles during his time there. That was headlined by a Grade 2 victory at Navan, followed by a third in a Grade 3 at Cheltenham in 2015. Moving to Cyril Murphy’s barn that summer, Rawnaq made an immediate impression when finishing third in the Grand National Hurdle before ending his season with a second at Camden. That was a sign of things to come with Rawnaq winning three straight in 2016 – including the Iroquois Hurdle and Grand National Hurdle – to easily secure the Eclipse Award.

After the Iroquois, Murphy gave viewers an interesting insight into winning one of the top races of the season when he talked Joe Clancy through the race in the piece titled “How Rawnaq won the Iroquois” that appeared May 16, 2016.

Rawnaq also taught an important lesson when he came down from the highs of an Eclipse Award to the lows of getting hurt. Possibly most painful was that he was in the middle of preparing for another tilt at Cheltenham – and a $500,000 bonus if he could win the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham after his Iroquois victory the previous year.

Before Rawnaq, there was Aintree Grade 2 winner Pierrot Lunaire, who came to the U.S. after a lightly raced career in Europe. His European career had a big highlight with the gelding winning the Top Novices’ Hurdle by 14 lengths in 2008 only two starts after breaking his maiden. It would be four years before he won his Eclipse Award, but the gelding had many thrills before that point.

He found success in the 2009 Grade 1 Iroquois Hurdle, though it was at the expense of an old favorite in Good Night Shirt. A horse that ran everywhere, Rawnaq solidified his championship campaign in 2016 with a pair of Grade 1 victories. That year proved that the third year is indeed the charm with a victory in the Grand National Hurdle in his third attempt to end his season.

Listed-placed in his flat career, Hirapour proved to be a useful flat horse over his four seasons in that code before switching disciplines. It took Hirapour a few races to figure out the new game – with the gelding doing well enough to hit the board but not get home in front – before deciding that he loved his new career.

Hirapour proved to be too good for his competition once the switch flipped and he won five straight in England by a combined 68 1/2 lengths. Sent to America after those wins, he kept his streak alive with an allowance victory at Great Meadow by 13 lengths before his first Grade 1 victory in the Grade 1 Supreme Hurdle at Pine Mountain. That was the first time he was tested since his win streak began with victory coming by just three-quarters of a length.

Everything was set for Hirapour to have a standout year in 2004. Though he didn’t get to keep his streak alive, the then 8-year-old never finished worse than second that season and won two Grade 1s from his four starts. Not surprisingly, his owners took home the hardware at that year’s Eclipse Awards.

At the top of his game until his retirement at the end of the 2006 season, Hirapour easily lived up to that early talent he’d shown in England. When he saluted the fans for the last time with a third in the Colonial Cup Hurdle in November of 2006, he’d racked up five Grade 1s with only one off the board finish in his 15 American starts.