Rawnaq in driver's seat for Eclipse after Grand National score

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

October 15th, 2016

Rawnaq solidified his status atop the American steeplechase rankings on Saturday with a victory in the $350,000 Grand National (G1) at Far Hills, New Jersey, the most lucrative hurdle in the country.

With this victory, his third in as many starts this season, Rawnaq is the heavy favorite to win the Eclipse Award for champion steeplechaser of 2016 with just one top-level race remaining on the calendar, next month's Colonial Cup (G1) at Camden, South Carolina.

However, trainer Cyril Murphy noted afterward that the Grand National was Rawnaq's primary target this fall and that the nine-year-old son of Azamour would likely concentrate on preparing for a trip to the Cheltenham Festival in England next March, where Rawnaq is eligible for a $500,000 bonus following an earlier win this season in the Iroquois (G1) at Percy Warner Park in Nashville.

Prior to that neck victory in the three-mile Iroquois, Rawnaq had defeated Scorpiancer by 15 lengths in the Temple Gwathmey (G3) at Middleburg, Virginia.

Multiple Irish champion jockey Ruby Walsh was aboard Rawnaq in the Grand National, substituting for Jack Doyle, who broke an ankle last month at Belmont Park.

"He had a good start and jumped the first couple really well," Walsh said. "It was an honest pace all the way, and when the English horse [Sharp Rise] started slacking off with a circuit and a half to go, Rawnaq cruised to the front and outstayed them from there."

The winning margin for Rawnaq was about a half-length over Scorpiancer. Sharp Rise was a distant third. The final time for 2 5/8 miles on firm ground was 4:50.

Rawnaq is owned by Irv Naylor, who won the Grand National last year with eventual champion Dawalan. Rawnaq was only a length behind that rival in third in what was his U.S. debut. He later finished a distant second to Dawalan in the Colonial Cup to close out 2015.