The Rest of the Story from the Irish Brigade

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As the spring steeplechase season fades and the summer season begins, we take a look back at the highlight of the spring. No doubt it was the Iroquois Steeplechase when Willie Mullins traveled the world with Nichols Canyon and Shaneshill May 14. With the $500,000 Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge on the table, the top class hurdlers finished second and third behind Rawnaq in the race of the year.

TIHR caught up with Mullins (2) and Walsh after their heroic effort fell just short. Here’s the rest of their thoughts, comments and observations on the Iroquois and American steeplechasing.

TIHR: What did you think of the race?

Willie Mullins: It’s so hard to make ground up. As long as they come back sound. Nichols Canyon was just a bit too cold in front, I should have taken the earplugs out. He wasn’t facing his hurdles, he was losing ground. His best runs are making the running, but the third, for some reason, he got a fright. Ruby couldn’t go on with him.

Ruby Walsh: My lad didn’t jump well enough, new fences, jumped too high, jumped out to his right, gave away too much land, I don’t know why. I would have gone faster, I gave away more than I got beat. I thought I was going in the hedge at the third. That’s horse racing, if you don’t jump, you don’t win. The pace wasn’t slow, just steady, for a Grade 1.

Danny Mullins: I thought maybe we’d win going down to the last but Rawnaq pulled out just a little bit more, we figured he was the horse to beat and he just got the best of us. It’s not nice getting beat but he ran well and hope he comes back safe and sound.


TIHR: Why come here?

Willie Mullins: I think we need to get jump racing more international, get Europeans traveling over here and Americans coming back to Europe, let it grow like flat racing where horses run all over the world. We’ve got to grow the purses, we’ve got to have more links between Europe and America and have more competition at the top level.


TIHR: What did you think of the ground (watered for weeks leading up to the race)?

Willie Mullins: This ground you have over here is what we call good ground, we have winter racing, we have a whole batch of horses that could compete here at the highest level on this ground. I’m delighted, I think, I’m delighted with the ground. To get Europeans over, you need to have at least that type of ground, and you might get a better quality horse if it was softer. People wouldn’t come if it was quicker.

Ruby Walsh: The ground has to be as slow as that, there has to be longevity, horses have to last, owners won’t keep investing if horses keep getting injured. The jumps ride really well, a great crowd, other than that…for a one-day meet, there’s quite a buzz. It’s impossible for owners when a horse gets two runs in and gets hurt. We would call this good, good to firm. You’d run fit horses on it, you wouldn’t run those horses on it in October in their first run, we wouldn’t chance them on that ground. At the end of the year, when they’re fit, they’re hard like they are now, they’ll cope with it better. It’s not easy to produce ground like that in this climate. To me, you wouldn’t want it any quicker, horses can’t last. You want horses to last, so people can follow them.

Danny Mullins: The ground was nice today, they put plenty of water on it, which for the American horses, some of the lads said it was a little bit slow, but maybe for the longevity of the horse you’ll get less tendon damage and for the owners buying some of the European horses, they’ll have longer careers, and more fun out of it, it’ll be more friendly for everybody. That’s the main thing to me, if the ground just slowed down a bit, you’ll get more fun for everybody. If it’s faster than today, the European horses aren’t going to come because they’ll be afraid they’re going to do damage. If they can produce ground like they did today, every day, they’ll have no problem coming over because the prize money is fantastic and there’s great opportunities without huge fields. There are plenty of people at home that should be taking the chance and have a go here. It’s an untapped source.


TIHR: What did you think of the purse and the bonus?

Willie Mullins: You need all that prize money plus the bonus, with the cost of traveling, you need that to entice us over and we need gamer owners. It’s expensive, we need prize money to be bigger to incentivize people to come over. We don’t have prize money during the summer for horses like this, so we think it’s crucial that we try and make the game a bit bigger, rather than just traditional Ireland and England and maybe France and the American stay at home. It needs to be broadened to grow otherwise National Hunt racing will disappear all together.


TIHR: Have you thought about coming to America before now?

Willie Mullins: I’m disappointed it’s taken me so long to come over, we’ve had entries before but the horses just weren’t good enough to bring, there’s no point in coming over for a day out.

Ruby Walsh: We had been meaning to come, and we’re coming back, we don’t like losing, we have to come back.


TIHR: What would you do differently?

Willie Mullins: If we were targeting this race again, we would probably have to skip one of our festivals, we’ve learned a lot, we’re going to take that home and hopefully come back better next year. Hopefully I’ll have other novices coming through that could come here, maybe we’ll target it more next year. We need to get the costs down, maybe we can plan it a bit better. I’m sure we can plan it better. This year, the circuit, we got the three festivals in, normally, we do two, Cheltenham and Punchestown. To come here was a big ask. Anyhow, we’ve done it, we’re happy, we’ve had a good shot, we look forward to next year.

Danny Mullins: Maybe we could have pressed the leader a little more, Ruby’s lad jumped a little bit right at couple of them which wasn’t ideal, but he ran his race, he just got beat on the day. We’ll make a new plan and go at them again.


TIHR: If Rawnaq lined up against Nichols Canyon and Shaneshill in Ireland, what would have happened?

Ruby Walsh: Rawnaq was always an unexposed horse, he was always an improving horse, the more you look at Rawnaq that’s the trip, he was running over 2 miles in Ireland, he wouldn’t have had the same caliber as Nichols Canyon but he would have gone a very different route. A good solid horse, always a stayer, wanted good ground. He fell at Aintree and had a chance. He wasn’t a bad horse.

Danny Mullins: He seems to have improved on his Irish form, he was just a summer handicapper when he was with us, Shaneshill is a proven Grade 1 performer, I would think Rawnaq has improved and Shaneshill is holding his line of form. If he comes over for the World Hurdle, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with. The winner of this year’s race won’t be running so it leaves it an open race. Shaneshill was second in the three mile Grade 1 at Aintree so he looks to be setting the standard for what’s there next year, it would be great to see Rawnaq come over.