Rawnaq out of Cheltenham Festival
The Cheltenham Festival dream is over for connections of Rawnaq after the American-based gelding picked up an injury that will rule him out of the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle.
Rawnaq (r) will miss the Cheltenham Festival
Formerly trained in Ireland by first Robbie Hennessy and then Matthew Smith, the 10-year-old was sold to race on the other side of the Atlantic in 2015 and 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 last May made him eligible for a US$500,000 bonus if he could complete the Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge by going on to win the Stayers' Hurdle at Prestbury Park in March.
He made his first start since that success in the American Grand National in October and claimed a narrow victory in the hands of Ruby Walsh.
Rawnaq was beaten on his only subsequent outing in the Colonial Cup the following month, but remained on track for a return to the Festival – where he was third over fences in 2015 – until suffering a setback last week.
Murphy told Press Association Sport: "Unfortunately he's picked up a soft tissue injury and he's not going to make it.
"He was due to ship over on February 3 and arrive on February 4. He was going to based with Neil Mulholland before running in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell on February 26.
"We had the plan mapped out, but it's not going to happen now."
With Rawnaq already in the latter stages of his career, Murphy admits the chances of ever seeing Rawnaq in Britain again are remote.
"I think because it has been such a long-term plan it made it that bit harder. We had such a big window for something to go wrong and unfortunately it has," the trainer added.
"It would have been hard enough to get him there this year as a 10-year-old. He's not going to run again this year, so to bring him to England as an 11-year-old would be next to impossible.
"Long-term I think he'll be OK, but time is the only healer and because of what he's achieved already, we're not going to rush him.
"If we can get him back then great, but if we can't, then he'll have a home here forever."