Rawnaq on track for Cheltenham

The Cheltenham Festival dream remains very much alive for Rawnaq following his American Grand National triumph.

Rawnaq (right) finishes third at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival behind Darna.

Formerly trained in Ireland by first Robbie Hennessy and then Matthew Smith, the nine-year-old was sold to race on the other side of the Atlantic last summer and has proved a shrewd acquisition for Irish-born trainer Cyril Murphy and his principal owner Irvin Naylor.

A major victory over the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon in the Grade One Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle in Nashville in May made him eligible for a US$500,000 bonus if he can complete the Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge by going on to win the World Hurdle at Prestbury Park next March.

He made his first start since that success in America's biggest jumps race at the weekend and with Ruby Walsh taking over in the saddle from the sidelined Jack Doyle, Rawnaq claimed a narrow victory, much to the delight of his trainer.

Murphy said: "We were thrilled with him. The American Grand National has been the plan for a long time, so while I wouldn't say there was pressure, there was a lot of anticipation.

"We had the scare with our jockey situation. Jack fractured his pelvis in a fall at Belmont a few weeks ago and is going to be in a metal frame for three or four months.

"Thankfully we managed to get Ruby over, who isn't a bad replacement, and everything went right on the day."

Rawnaq is set to have one more start in America before journeying back to Britain in readiness for his Festival assignment.

"His next start will be in the Colonial Cup in South Carolina on November 19. He was second in the race to Dawalan last year," said Murphy.

"The long-term plan is the World Hurdle, so with that in mind, the Colonial Cup becomes a stepping-stone rather than an actual target, but we'll be trying to win it.

"That race is on the last day of the season over here, so after that we're hoping to bring him over and give him a run in England if we can find a suitable race at the end of January or early February and then go on to Cheltenham."

Murphy worked in British racing for over a decade before making the move Stateside, enjoying stints with Sir Mark Prescott, Bill Turner and Nicky Henderson.

He has not yet firmed up where Rawnaq will be based when he arrives in Britain.

He said: "I've been a bit reluctant to make any firm plans as everything revolved around Saturday, but now that's out of the way, we can sit down and try to go through things in a bit more detail.

"Ian Renton from Cheltenham was over here on Saturday and I spoke with him at length. Ruby gave us some ideas as well, so we're working on it.

"Obviously Cheltenham is still a while away yet, but it would be great if we can get there.

"He'll be there as a long shot, but as an international runner he'd attract a bit of publicity and any publicity is good publicity at this stage."

Rawnaq can be backed at 25/1 to win the Ladbrokes World Hurdle with Sky Bet.

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