A dozen questions after the Iroquois

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Twelve questions from the Iroquois…

What do you do with Rawnaq now? He’s 2-for-2 with a Grade 1 in the spring. He was probably never going to Saratoga anyway, so his American schedule would include a break until fall. Maybe Belmont in September, but the real goals would be the Grand National in October and the Colonial Cup in November. Of course, now there’s this little thing of the Brown Advisory Iroquois/Cheltenham Challenge. Owner Irv Naylor said they give it a go and try to complete the $500,000 challenge in the Ryanair World Hurdle at England’s Cheltenham Festival in March. Bravo. But do you do that from here and ship over the week of the race the way the Irish tried the Iroquois? Or do you aim for a far earlier arrival in England, maybe run once there as a prep? “There’s 10 months of thinking to do, isn’t there?” said trainer Cyril Murphy. “We’ll see, we’ll see. We’ve got a lot of things to overcome to get there, but it’s nice to know that we could if we wanted. I think we’re good enough, we’ll see what happens.” Oh to have the options.

Did he improve that much from his English/Irish days? Rawnaq won once on the flat in England for Sheikh Hamdan and trainer Mark Johnston (the same man who had Demonstrative by the way) in 2010 then sold at Tattersalls for 3,500 guineas. In Ireland, he worked at his craft – winning at Bellewstown in 2012, taking three in a row  (including another at Bellewstown) in 2013 and even placing third in a handicap chase at Cheltenham in March 2015 – but was no star. He won five times over hurdles and twice more over chase fences, earning checks, more than paying his way but never breaking out. He reached a rating of 144 over hurdles and 142 over chase fences. In America, he’s never been worse than third in four starts and at the Iroquois he took down a Grade 1 headed by two Irish-based rivals ranked far above him on the handicap scale. Murphy, who bought Rawnaq for Naylor last year, loves the horse’s uncomplicated ways. “What you see is what you get. There’s nothing flashy about him, but you know you’re getting an effort when he goes out there. That’s what (trainer) Matthew Smith told me when we bought him. He said ‘Everything we do with him is based on him.’ He’ll give you everything he’s got every time you run.”

What do you do with Demonstrative now? The 2014 champion hung in for a while Saturday, but was outrun if not disgraced. He jumped like a demon – long and high and with power like he can – but he was outrun in between fences down the back the last time. He’s 9, nearly at $1 million in lifetime earnings and owes nothing to anyone. He could retire tomorrow and be considered a great one. He loves Saratoga, but younger horses might be better now. The Iroquois was his 21st consecutive Grade 1 start. It would have been fun to see him in the Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg or the David Semmes at Great Meadow.

What would have happened if Divine Fortune ran in the race? They didn’t hang around in the Iroquois as it was. Imagine a young, bold, flying Divine Fortune (who won the race in 2014 after finishing second in 2012 and 2013) up there with Nichols Canyon and Rawnaq early. Sadly, we’ll never know.

What if Willie Mullins brought over Annie Power instead? The 8-year-old Irish-bred mare decimated the overseas hurdle ranks with wins at Punchestown Cheltenham and Aintree this year – twice knocking off Iroquois runner Nichols Canyon. Three miles probably isn’t her best distance, though she was second in the 2014 World Hurdle, but she’d have given the boys a tussle.

Where are the American-breds? Irish-breds finished first and second, followed by an English-bred and then another Irish-bred. The four Yanks in the race occupied places 5-8. Bottom line, a speed-heavy pedigree base does not, by design, produce world-class hurdlers the way the Irish and English do. Can that change? Sure. Will it? Maybe.

What if Jack Doyle didn’t get Rawnaq inside at the third fence? There were plenty of key moments in the Iroquois. An early one came when Doyle got tired of tangling with the right-jumping Nichols Canyon and dropped to the inside after the third fence. Rawnaq went from reacting to dictating.  It didn’t win the race, but it helped.

Will live-streaming become a thing? The Iroquois stepped out and pulled it off. It wasn’t perfect – blame the lack of enough upload bandwidth or something like that – but it worked and U.S. jump racing will take it. It’s only a matter of time until it’s happening in more places. Be patient, but get ready.

Will Tempt Me Alex take a shot at the big one next year? The long-striding 7-year-old might be the antidote to the American-bred woes in the Iroquois. He’s run three winning races over the course and would be a factor if he improves even a little bit.

Who will be next year’s Iroquois Hall of Fame inductee? It was great to see owner/trainer Dr. John Griggs get the honor this year. From his Kentucky base, Griggs sent out steeplechase stars Warm Spell, Steve Canyon, Lot O’ Ribot and others – always in orange and white silks, always a little rough around the edges and always competitive. 

Will Irv Naylor catch Augustin Stable? With more than $9 million in total earnings, Augustin has long led American jump racing when it comes to purses. Of course, George Strawbridge’s green and white silks are rarely seen on the circuit these days – and Naylor has topped $500,000 three times in the last five seasons including a record $778,650 last year. His 2016 includes $461,900 (including $150,000 from Rawnaq) earned so far, putting him at $5.8 million lifetime. It could happen.

Has anybody started like Cyril Murphy? The trainer is 11-for-16 this year. That’s 69 percent winners. Take that super trainers. The horses have won the Iroquois, Temple Gwathmey, Virginia Gold Cup, My Lady’s Manor and the Henley.