By Don Clippinger, National Steeplechase Association
A top-drawer field was taking shape Monday for the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1), but missing from Saturday’s race will be Nichols Canyon, the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle winner who sustained an injury while shipping to the United States.
Andrea and Graham Wylie’s Cheltenham Festival victor was regarded as the favorite in the three-mile Calvin Houghland Iroquois and was shooting for the $500,000 TVV Capital Iroquois-Cheltenham Challenge, a bonus paid to the winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Nashville race in the same 12-month period.
Willie Mullins, who trains Nichols Canyon for the Wylies, informed Iroquois Steeplechase officials of the injury, which occurred in transit from Ireland.
“We are really, really disappointed not to be able to contend the race, particularly due to the international aspect and the very generous bonus offered,” the 10-time champion Irish trainer said.
“After two seasons of planning and coming up with the right horse, Nichols Canyon’s win at Cheltenham, and previous experience of this race last year provided us with a once in a lifetime opportunity and we are devastated that he will miss out on being in contention for that level of prize money. The most important thing at the moment is to get Nichols Canyon home and plan for next season.”
Nichols Canyon, third in last year’s Calvin Houghland Iroquois, won the three-mile Stayers’ Hurdle on March 16.
“We’re very thankful to the Wylies, Willie Mullins, and Ruby Walsh for embracing the Iroquois-Cheltenham Challenge,” said Iroquois Steeplechase Chairman Dwight Hall. “Their involvement has given us the international spark of competition that we set out to achieve. We’re hopeful that Nichols Canyon has an opportunity to come back to run in the Iroquois again, as he is a world-class jump horse. Everyone at the Volunteer State Horsemen’s Foundation wishes him and his connections the very best.”
Entries for the Calvin Houghland Iroquois will remain open until Tuesday morning. Expected to top the field is Irv Naylor’s Dawalan, the 2015 Eclipse Award winner as champion steeplechase horse. The French-bred seven-year-old will be making his first start since winning that season’s Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1). He sustained an injury in a spring 2016 point-to-point race and missed the National Steeplechase Association season.