Scaraquois: Irish raider wins Grade 1 Hurdle Stakes in Tennessee

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Irish invader Scaramanga and Paul Townend lead to the wire at last weekend’s Grade 1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois in Nashville. Tod Marks Photo.

(Originally published in May 19 edition of The Irish Field)

Paul Townend wrapped a wet towel over his bare shoulders and hailed a golf cart quicker than a New Yorker flags a yellow cab.

“I’m pretending to be a flat jockey a little bit for a while. We have a big meeting in France next weekend, the French Gold Cup and the French Champion Hurdle so on to France now,” Townend said. “Oh, we’re in Killarney tomorrow, that’s why I’m rushing for a flight here. It’ll be a little bit of a come down but it’s brilliant. Brilliant.”

Grade 1 stakes wins anywhere, anytime are brilliant.

Scaramanga provided the most recent Grade 1 spoke in Willie Mullins’ all-encompassing wheel. Owned by Malcolm Denmark, the 8-year-old son of Mastercraftsman ventured across the world to take on America’s best Snap Decision in the Grade 1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois. The 3-mile hurdle stakes worth $200,000 in Nashville, Tennessee attracted eight runners. At the top of the list stood Snap Decision, seeking to win his third consecutive Iroquois. And would have if it wasn’t for a suggestion by Mullins’ assistant David Casey.

“I said it to Malcolm when we were saddling him for the Coral Cup in Cheltenham because he’s a horse who likes dry ground. He’s just struggling a little bit in Ireland ground wise,” Casey said. “I was just trying to think outside the box, so I said, ‘We’ve had runners there before, the ground will be dry to suit him, he’s got the quality to be competitive, are you interested?’ Malcolm said, ‘Yeah, definitely.’ That’s where it started. I said to Willie I have an idea, he said ‘Hey, if Malcolm is happy, I’m happy.’ So it was great.”

Denmark was happy then, ecstatic after Scaramanga tracked and reeled in the front-running Snap Decision, the only American-bred in the race, to draw off to a decisive 3 3/4-length score. Irish-bred Scorpion’s Revenge rallied to be third over fellow Irish-breds Ask Paddington, Noah And The Ark and City Dreamer.

“We looked after Cheltenham as to where the best place to go was and we thought about Punchestown, but the weather was still a bit wet and David Casey actually came up with the idea to come here,” said Denmark after he and his son Callum accepted the Iroquois trophy on a humid afternoon. “As it’s turned out, it was a great idea. We certainly weren’t going to walk away from a trip to Nashville. It was a good fun place to come. It’s been a great city and we’ve really enjoyed it.”

Scaramanga and Townend made sure they enjoyed it.

With Sean McDermott replacing Graham Watters, who broke his T5 vertebrae the previous weekend, Snap Decision took over after the third hurdle. Townend settled Scaramanga in his slipstream. Cat. Mouse.

With a circuit to go, Snap Decision led by 3 lengths over Scaramanga. Nothing had changed. Then everything changed. As the field turned down the long backstretch, Noah And The Ark and Mortlach engaged Snap Decision. Townend never looked up from his hand, sliding back into fourth. Snap Decision eventually shook off the early pretenders, staved off Scorpion’s Revenge’s arrow nearing the second-to-last. Still, Townend waited, allowing Scaramanga to recover from a few untidy jumps late, saving ground and trying to win the race one time. One definitive time. Townend hugged the inside rail around the final time before aiming Scaramanga between Snap Decision and Scorpion’s Revenge as they continued to climb to the last. Snap Decision tried to offer another answer, but it was over as Scaramanga scampered away.

“Different tempo. It’s hard coming here without knowing the other horses,” Townend said. “I was in Far Hills and Wicklow Brave unfortunately fell, it doesn’t make up for it, but it’s a little bit of compensation anyway. It’s nice to ride grade ones around the world. I’m very lucky to be riding them for Willie at home and in England. Great find by David Casey, he deserves a lot of credit. Malcolm was brave to come, and he got repaid with a grade one winner. Brilliant.”

Mullins finished second and third in the Iroquois when Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon chased Rawnaq in the 2016 edition. Mullins won a filly and mare stakes at Far Hills with Pravalaguna in 2019. Originally campaigned by James Fanshawe on the flat and Paul Nicholls over hurdles, Scaramanga joined Mullins’ yard in the summer of 2022. He lost twice on the flat before finishing fourth in the Coral Cup, evidently, a perfect prep for the Iroquois.

“We were really up for it,” Denmark said. “He’s ground dependent. He would win a big race in the British or Irish arena, but he never gets the ground. That’s the problem.”

No problem in Tennessee.

As far as what’s next, Denmark

“We were expecting Snap Decision to beat us,” Denmark said. “Now we’ve done that, and we’ll have a think again.”

The American Grand National is in October.