01/06/2016 12:00AM

2015 Eclipse Awards: Dawalan


Breed for greatness. Or something like that. No Thoroughbred gave better credence to that strategy in 2015 than steeplechase Eclipse Award finalist Dawalan. His greatness just turned out to be of a different flavor.

Bred in France by the Aga Khan’s Studs, Dawalan is a half-brother to 1999 Male Turf champion Daylami and 2003 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Dalakhani. Like his brothers, Dawalan started out racing in Europe and lost all four starts in France for his breeder and trainer, Alain De Royer-Dupre. Purchased by high-profile jump owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, the son of Azamour won four times over hurdles for English trainer Nicky Henderson but failed to threaten in two attempts at the Cheltenham Festival. Looking to cull horses, Munir and Souede offered Dawalan, and American Irv Naylor pounced.

In October, Henderson joked that he wouldn’t have agreed to sell the horse to anyone in England – for fear of racing against him. The move proved to be prudent as trainer Cyril Murphy, based on Naylor’s Maryland farm, produced a star. Imported in May, Dawalan was held out of Saratoga in favor of a break and emerged for his American debut at Belmont Park on Sept. 24. The gray gelding announced his presence with a third in the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory behind fellow Eclipse finalist Bob Le Beau.

Murphy liked the race, his horse’s first since April, and aimed for the $300,000 Grand National the next month at Far Hills in New Jersey. There, Dawalan delivered, taking charge in the stretch and holding off the Irish invader Eshtiaal to win by a length.

“He had been working like a machine the last few weeks,” Murphy said after the biggest win of his training career. “He’s small, but he’s like a Jack Russell Terrier. He was traveling too well at Belmont; he got caught out. Today, he was grand.”

Suddenly in the championship race, Dawalan went to the season-ending Colonial Cup in South Carolina needing to win against other top-of-the-division foes Bob Le Beau (who skipped the Grand National) and Demonstrative (who won a Grade 1 in May). The 6-year-old left no doubt, handing every bit of the 2 3/4 miles and winning by 5 1/4 lengths over stablemate Rawnaq and Demonstrative.

“I didn’t care when I got there, I had all day,” said winning jockey Ross Geraghty. “Once he had daylight, he came alive. When he got over the last, he was running because he wanted to run. It was just, ‘Look good on the camera,’ because nothing was coming past.”

Dawalan led all U.S. steeplechasers with $255,000 earned in 2015. He and Bob Le Beau, second with $220,250, were the only two-time Grade 1 winners.