Rawnaq pursuing American dream

US challenger Rawnaq features among 47 entries for the £300,000 Grade One Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham on the third day of The Festival, St Patrick's Thursday, March 16.

Rawnaq (right) runs at the Cheltenham Festival in a past life

The Cyril Murphy-trained Rawnaq is going for a US$500,000 bonus after defeating European raiders Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon in the three-mile Grade One Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle, the first part of the Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge, at Percy Warner Park, Nashville, last May.

The terms of the Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge offers the bonus to any horse who wins both that race and the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle within the space of 12 months.

Rawnaq followed up his Iroquois Hurdle success with victory in the Grade One Grand National Hurdle at Far Hills in October, when partnered by Ruby Walsh, and was second on his latest start in the Grade One Colonial Cup at Camden in November.

The 10-year-old, who runs in the colours of Irvin Naylor, was previously trained in Ireland by Matthew Smith and already has experience at The Festival, having finished third in the 2015 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate over fences. He was also third in 2013 Greatwood Hurdle at The Open.

Trainer Cyril Murphy, based in Maryland, said on Thursday: "It is so far so good with Rawnaq. After he ran in November, we left him alone for a month and then started to pick him up again before Christmas.

"He did a piece of work last week and did another bit on Tuesday, and everything seems to be moving in the right direction for us.

"Rawnaq has been very solid. We bought him hoping he could be a Grade One horse but to go and do what he did last year and win two of them was great.

"He got beat the last day, which was disappointing for everybody, but in hindsight I think the ground was even firmer than we wanted. He just didn't have a cut at the fences.

"Ruby Walsh rode him in October and was impressed. He made himself available to us after Jack Doyle got injured and that said enough to me as he was behind us on Nichols Canyon in the Iroquois. I asked Ruby if he felt we could finish in the first four or five in Cheltenham and he said he would not put us off chasing the bonus because it is an open year in the stayers' division.

"The horse has run well over fences and hurdles at Cheltenham, so we know the track doesn't hold any fears. He is not ground dependent either as he won a good race on testing ground in Ireland.

"At the moment, the plan is to leave here either on February 3 or February 6 to arrive in England the following day. It is a 12-hour drive from our place to Huntsville airport in Alabama, then he has a direct flight to Stansted and finally a road trip to Neil Mulholland's [in Somerset] where he will be based. You are looking at about 36 hours door to door.

"I worked with Neil Mulholland for a period of time at Nicky Henderson's. We lost contact in the interim but we got back in contact through an existing owner of his who lives and follows the racing out here. Before Nicky's, I was with Sir Mark Prescott for four years and then a conditional jockey with Bill Turner for four years. I rode 13 winners from about 200 rides.

"If everything goes right, the hope at the moment to give Rawnaq a prep race in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell on February 26.

"Jack Doyle is going to ride him. He won on him in his first two starts last year and would have ridden him in his last two starts but for getting injured. It was always the plan for Jack to ride him if he was available because he obviously knows the horse and has experience around Cheltenham."

Rawnaq is a 33/1 chance with the race sponsors and in Sky Bet's ante-post market. Last year's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle hero Unowhatimeanharry is the 5/2 favourite after extending his winning streak to seven with a four and a half-length beating of Lil Rockerfeller in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

Unowhatimeanharry's owner J P McManus has six entries in total. They also include 2014 scorer More Of That, multiple G1 winner Jezki, set to make his comeback this weekend, and Yanworth.

Willie Mullins, who has yet to win the Stayers' Hurdle, is responsible for 10 of 19 Irish entries and, along with Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon, has also put in the last two winners of the Stan James Champion Hurdle in Faugheen and Annie Power.

Other high-profile contenders include the 2015 winner Cole Harden and the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained pair of Ballyoptic and The New One.

Sun Bets Head of PR Tim Reynolds said: "It is great to see so many high-class horses in the race. Unowhatimeanharry's story is a remarkable one and on this season's form he is the standout staying hurdler and worthy favourite."

Horse

Age

Owner

Trainer

AGRAPART (FR)

6

The Gascoigne Brookes Partnership III

Nick Williams

ANNIE POWER (IRE)

9

Susannah Ricci

Willie Mullins IRE

ANTEROS (IRE)

9

K W Bell

Sophie Leech

APPLE'S JADE (FR)

5

Gigginstown House Stud

Gordon Elliott IRE

BALLYOPTIC (IRE)

7

Mills & Mason Partnership

Nigel Twiston-Davies

BORN SURVIVOR (IRE)

6

Mrs G Widdowson & Mrs R Kelvin-Hughes

Dan Skelton

CAMPING GROUND (FR)

7

G L Porter

Gary Moore

CLONDAW WARRIOR (IRE)

10

Act D Wagg Syndicate

Willie Mullins IRE

COLE HARDEN (IRE)

8

Jill Eynon & Robin Eynon

Warren Greatrex

DEDIGOUT (IRE)

11

Gigginstown House Stud

Gordon Elliott IRE

DE PLOTTING SHED (IRE)

7

Ives/Ashley/Vasey Partnership

Gordon Elliott IRE

DIAKALI (FR)

8

Wicklow Bloodstock (Ireland) Ltd

Willie Mullins IRE

FAUGHEEN (IRE)

9

Susannah Ricci

Willie Mullins IRE

FOOTPAD (FR)

5

Simon Munir/Isaac Souede

Willie Mullins IRE

HENRI PARRY MORGAN

9

Ednyfed & Elizabeth Morgan

Peter Bowen

IVANOVICH GORBATOV (IRE)

5

J P McManus

Joseph O'Brien IRE

JEZKI (IRE)

9

J P McManus

Jessica Harrington IRE

KOTKIKOVA (FR)

6

J P McManus

Nicky Henderson

LIL ROCKERFELLER (USA)

6

Davies Smith Govier & Brown

Neil King

MILSEAN (IRE)

8

Gigginstown House Stud

Mouse Morris IRE

MISTER MIYAGI (IRE)

8

Ben Turner & Jay Tabb

Dan Skelton

MONKSLAND (IRE)

10

Mrs Patricia Hunt

Noel Meade IRE

MORE OF THAT (IRE)

9

J P McManus

Jonjo O'Neill

NICHOLS CANYON

7

Andrea & Graham Wylie

Willie Mullins IRE

OLD GUARD

6

The Brooks, Stewart Families & J Kyle

Paul Nicholls

ONE TRACK MIND (IRE)

7

Andy Weller

Warren Greatrex

ORDO AB CHAO (IRE)

8

A R W Marsh

Alan King

PTIT ZIG (FR)

8

Chris Giles & B Fulton

Paul Nicholls

RAWNAQ (IRE)

10

Irvin S Naylor

Cyril Murphy USA

REVE DE SIVOLA (FR)

12

Paul Duffy Diamond Partnership

Nick Williams

SHANESHILL (IRE)

8

Andrea & Graham Wylie

Willie Mullins IRE

SHANTOU BOB (IRE)

9

Fallon, Shipp & Bolingbroke

Warren Greatrex

SHANTOU VILLAGE (IRE)

7

Jane Gerard-Pearse

Neil Mulholland

SNOW FALCON (IRE)

7

Patricia Hunt

Noel Meade IRE

SUPASUNDAE

7

Ann & Alan Potts Partnership

Jessica Harrington IRE

TAQUIN DU SEUIL (FR)

10

Martin Broughton & Friends 1

Jonjo O'Neill

THE NEW ONE (IRE)

9

S Such & C G Paletta

Nigel Twiston-Davies

THE ROMFORD PELE (IRE)

10

Trembath & Outhart

Rebecca Curtis

THREE MUSKETEERS (IRE)

7

Mrs G Widdowson & Lizzie Kelvin-Hughes

Dan Skelton

UNOWHATIMEANHARRY

9

J P McManus

Harry Fry

UN TEMPS POUR TOUT (IRE)

8

Professor Caroline Tisdall & Bryan Drew

David Pipe

VROUM VROUM MAG (FR)

8

Susannah Ricci

Willie Mullins IRE

WEST APPROACH

7

John and Heather Snook

Colin Tizzard

WHITEOUT (GER)

6

Mrs David Lawlor

Willie Mullins IRE

WICKLOW BRAVE

8

Wicklow Bloodstock (Ireland) Ltd

Willie Mullins IRE

YANWORTH

7

J P McManus

Alan King

ZARKANDAR (IRE)

10

Potensis Bloodstock Ltd & Chris Giles

Paul Nicholls

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