Irish import Rawnaq was awarded the 2016 Eclipse Award for champion steeplechase horse on Jan. 21 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla.
The 10-year-old bay gelding (Azamour—Sharemata, Doyoun), owned by Irv Naylor and trained by Cyril Murphy, won three of his four starts in 2016, including the $200,000 Grade 1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois in Nashville, Tenn., and the $350,000 Grade 1 Grand National in Far Hills, N.J.—and he placed second in his only defeat, the $150,000 grade 1 Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup in Camden, S.C.
It’s becoming familiar territory for the connections who brought home the coveted Eclipse trophy for the second consecutive year after being awarded it in 2015 for Dawalawn. Naylor also won in 2011 with Black Jack Blues.
“It meant just as much as it did winning last year,” said Murphy. “We worked hard through the year, and it’s a nice accolade to collect at the end of it all, to show we were doing something right.”
Murphy has been a fan of the horse since he arrived at Naylor’s Reisterstown, Md., barn in August of 2015.
“I’ve had a lot of faith in this horse from the very first day he walked into the yard, so it was nice for him to receive the accolade,” said Murphy. “He definitely earned it.”
Accepting the award on behalf of the connections, including jockey Jack Doyle, was Diane Naylor.
“It was very exciting!” said Diane. “It was the first year that I went to the awards. Cyril accepted it for us last year, but this year I was able to be there. It was quite an honor, and we are very excited. We wouldn’t be there without Cyril. He’s done a wonderful job training for us, and it was really a thrill.”
But as anyone involved with horses knows, it’s a life peppered with highs and lows. The week after receiving his Eclipse award, Rawnaq sustained a soft-tissue injury, which has sidelined him for the entire 2017 season, including the Brown Advisory Iroquois-Cheltenham Challenge in England and its $500,000 bonus.
Devised as a way to entice international competition, winners of the Sun Bets Stayers Hurdle at the Cheltenham races and the Iroquois within a one-year period collect the additional purse.
“To say we are disappointed would be an understatement,” confessed Murphy.
“But we are all realistic about it too. They are animals, they are flesh and blood, they are not machines,” he added.
In the meantime, the group is always keeping an eye out for new talent to add to their string.
“You can never sit on your haunches for too long. Irv likes his wins as much or more than most so we are always looking,” he said with a laugh.