Ross Geraghty leaned over the left side of Dawalan and summed up the Colonial Cup.
"It's not too often you worry about reaching the front too soon in a Grade 1," Geraghty said as Ronnie Raymond led the 5-year-old in circles after the $100,000 stakes.
That's about all Geraghty had to worry about as Irv Naylor's Dawalan trounced 10 rivals in the final Grade 1 stakes of the season at Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C. Saturday. The gray son of Azamour jumped the second-to-last five wide, even with former claimers All Together and Diplomat and a half-length down to stablemate Rawnaq and front-running champion Demonstrative. The rest were deep in their reserves.
By the time the best horses in the game reached the last, Demonstrative and Rawnaq battled on, Dawalan loomed and Geraghty confronted his only fear - reaching the lead too soon - some feeling in the Colonial Cup cauldron. There was nothing to worry about as Dawalan streaked to a 5 ¼-length win over Rawnaq and Demonstrative. Trained by Cyril Murphy, Dawalan earned the Lonesome Glory Award as the sport's leading earner and (most likely) clinched an Eclipse Award with his second Grade 1 win in three starts this fall.
Imported this summer after winning four hurdle races in England, Dawalan finished third in the $150,000 Lonesome Glory at Belmont, won the $300,000 Grand National by a length and threw the last match on his Grade 1 bonfire with a dominant win in the Colonial Cup. The crescendo of American steeplechasing since its initial running in 1970, the Colonial Cup is meant to hammer the final nail through the board and decide a championship. It did it again. Whether it's in a photo finish or a tour de force, champions are crowned in Camden.
Murphy walked back to the barn after the last race and talked about Dawalan. The Irish-born trainer looked at the ground, smiled and explained his first champion.
"Joe Clancy called the other day and I did a lot of talking about Rawnaq, it was almost to try to deflect the attention, Dawalan was training every bit as good as he was going to Far Hills. But I never would have said he was going to do what he just did," Murphy said. "Ross said he wasn't traveling particularly well through the the middle part of the race, but once he pulled him out, he grabbed the bit, little things will make him happy and when he gets happy, he gets big. He's so efficient with his jumps, he's got enough bone to stand up, he's light, he doesn't cost himself any ground, he's the perfect horse right now."
Riding a three-race losing streak, Demonstrative bounded to the lead in the 2 ¾-mile classic. Alajmal and Rawnaq tracked while Geraghty placed Dawalan in fourth. Two-time Grade 1 winner Bob Le Beau rated near the back with Diplomat and Able Deputy. Passing the stands, little changed. Turning down the back, Demonstrative lengthened and flew the first hurdle in the long straight as Rawnaq, All Together and Alamjal tracked. Dawalan slipped back and then slipped forward, slicing through horses on the turn. Geraghty aimed him wide and he leapt into the fray, skipping over the last two and lengthening away to a whip-never-turned-over romp.
Geraghty met Dawalan at Naylor's Maryland farm this summer. On the shelf with a back injury, Geraghty watched and hoped. Murphy gave him the call for the Lonesome Glory, two races later Geraghty had his second champion (he rode Naylor's Black Jack Blues to an Eclipse Award in 2011).
"I lost my place, he just wasn't traveling, so I changed tactics about halfway down the back, I turned my hands over and sat against him, he started getting quicker and fast at his fences, he was really happy, I went from the gaps going too fast to the gaps going too slow," Geraghty said. "I didn't care when I got there, I had all day, I was happy. I went by Bob Le Beau and I had Rawnaq and Demonstrative, he came alive. From the last home, it was just, 'look good for the camera.' He's fun, he loves his job, he's winning confidently. He's only 5, he's going to be a lot of fun. The last day, he was doing as much as he had to, I thought there was a lot of improvement today. And he showed it."
Bred in France by The Aga Khan's Stud, Dawalan was destined for greatness of another kind as a half-brother to Daylami, who won the Breeders' Cup Turf and an Eclipse Award as champion male turf horse of 1999 as well as 2003 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Dalakhani. After four French flat starts (all defeats) for his breeder and trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre, Dawalan was sold and converted to hurdling by trainer Nicky Henderson. He won two of his first three, ran at last year's Cheltenham Festival and won two handicap hurdles.