Quietly, always quietly, Cyril Murphy trains some of the best steeplechase horses in the country at owner Irv Naylor's farm near Butler, Md. A former jockey, whose American career included several seasons riding for Tom Voss, Murphy aims Dawalan, Rawnaq and Able Deputy at Saturday's Grade 1 Colonial Cup in Camden, S.C.
Dawalan won the season's richest race, the $300,000 Grand National, at Far Hills last month and could make a strong case for an Eclipse Award with a win over chief rival Bob Le Beau. The Grand National win - and two others on the lucrative day - boosted what had been a slow year for the barn, though Murphy is second behind runaway leader Jack Fisher with $472,500 in purses earned.
The trainer can thank Dawalan for $195,000 of that. The French-bred gray finished third in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park in late September, and kicked out of that to win the Grand National by a length over Irish raider Eshtiaal and another Naylor/Murphy runner Rawnaq.
Dawalan did what anyone would do after a career highlight - celebrated.
"After he ran at Far Hills, we brought him home and put him in the field," Murphy said. "We did nothing with him for a week. He's shown all the signs he's doing well."
Saturday's venue, flat and fast Springdale Race Course, adds a different test for Grade 1 horses - especially when compared to the more hilly Far Hills. The Colonial Cup is contested at 2 3/4 miles over a sprawling layout where each of the race's 17 fences is jumped once. For comparison's sake, the last four Colonial Cups were run in faster times than the last four Grand Nationals (despite an extra furlong).
Murphy figures Dawalan, whose pedigree includes Grade 1-winning brothers Daylami (Breeders' Cup Turf, Eclipse Award) and Dalakhani (Arc de Triomphe winner), will adjust. The 5-year-old carries 156 pounds, with Ross Geraghty accepting the return riding call in a field of 11.
"He'll handle the trip fine, his last win (in England) was at Musselburgh and it's flat as a pancake," said Murphy. "He's one of those horses who likes to just travel. The easier the race is, the more likely he is to finish up. Obviously it's a different setup than what he saw at Far Hills, but he'll handle it."
Dawalan advanced from mid-pack at Far Hills to take over on the final turn and repulse bids from Eshtiaal and Rawnaq late. Murphy knows his horse will have to summon another big effort. Five in the field exit the Grand National, while Bob Le Beau returns off a slight break since winning the Lonesome Glory at Belmont. Trainer Elizabeth Voss opted to skip the Grand National and aim for Camden. Bob Le Beau thrives on firm turf, at longer distances and won on the flat turf courses at Saratoga and Belmont. Bob Le Beau prepped with a training flat race at Montpelier Nov. 7 and finished second behind Saturday rival Demonstrative.
Dawalan will get most of the attention, but Murphy won't discount Rawnaq.
The Irish-bred settled for a hard-luck third in the Grand National - beaten a nose for second and a length for the win. Jack Doyle switches back to Bob Le Beau, but Murphy engaged Sean McDermott for the ride on the son of Azamour. Rawnaq won twice over hurdles and four times over chase fences in Ireland before joining the Naylor squad this summer.
"I think (Dawalan) has got to run his A game to beat Rawnaq before he beats anybody else," Murphy said. "He and Dawalan train together every day and if you worked the two together, you'd say I was crazy. Rawnaq cannot work with Dawalan, but Rawnaq will keep going, he'll lie down for you and give you a hundred percent."
Murphy called Rawnaq an "unlucky loser" at Far Hills as the son of Azamour had to pause slightly behind some traffic leaving the backside and was briefly seventh on the final turn before rallying back into it.
"He just lacks acceleration and when they were going down to the last on the backside, he just had to pause behind Hunt Ball a little bit," said Murphy. "If Bob Le Beau shows up and does what he's done all summer, he's the horse to beat, and Dawalan ran very well at Far Hills. But I like Rawnaq too."
NOTES: Murphy runs One Lucky Lady in Saturday's $30,000 filly/mare hurdle. The 7-year-old English import won her American debut at Far Hills and can clinch the division crown with a victory. The race drew 10 entries, including 2015 winners The Grange, Barbara's Smile, Wigwam Baby, Bau Bai Gold, Hiwasee Gem and Ivy Mills. "She's training well, she's sharp, but there are youngsters coming along behind her," said Murphy. "They'll have to run to beat her. The track might not suit her but the pace might set up for her a bit better and it might become a stamina-type race. She'll still be running at the end. It's just whether they get too far away from her." Murphy has two in the $25,000 ratings hurdle, All That Rules and Gimme Five, which could end up as two races with 19 entered.
The Colonial Cup field (with owner, trainer, jockey). All horses carry 156 pounds over 2 3/4 miles and 17 fences. The Grade 1 is the fourth race on the day with a post time of 2 p.m.
- Diplomat (Flying Elvis Stable, Kate Dalton, Bernie Dalton).
- Demonstrative (Jacqueline Ohrstrom, Richard Valentine, Darren Nagle).
- The Nephew (Bruton Street-US, Jack Fisher, Connor Hankin).
- Bob Le Beau (The Fields Stable, Elizabeth Voss, Jack Doyle).
- All Together (David Jacobson, Jacobson, Steven Pateman).
- Dawalan (Irv Naylor, Cyril Murphy, Ross Geraghty).
- Rawnaq (Irv Naylor, Cyril Murphy, Sean McDermott).
- Lune de Caro (Tamara McSorley, Jonathan Sheppard, Mark Beecher).
- Able Deputy (Irv Naylor, Cyril Murphy, Carol-Ann Sloan).
- Gustavian (Magalen Bryant, Leslie Young, Paddy Young).
- Alajmal (Greg Hawkins, Janet Elliot, Kieran Norris).