01/05/2017 1:40PM

2016 Eclipse Awards: Rawnaq

Tod Marks
Rawnaq wins the Grand National at Far Hills in October.

For owner Irv Naylor and trainer Cyril Murphy, the 2016 National Steeplechase Association season was nearly derailed before it even began. Dawalan, who won the Eclipse Award as America’s top steeplechase horse in 2015 after scoring back-to-back Grade 1 wins in the Grand National and Colonial Cup, sustained a bowed tendon during a 1 1/2-mile training race on the flat April 2. Although the injury to the 6-year-old Dawalan was not considered career-ending, it was serious enough to send him to the sidelines for the entire hurdle season.

Rather than panic, Naylor and Murphy focused their attention on their best backup runner, the Irish import Rawnaq, a 9-year-old gelding who showed he fit well with American jumpers when he finished a close third to Dawalan, beaten a nose for second, in the 2 5/8-mile Grand National at Far Hills in fall 2015 and second, 5 1/4 lengths behind his stablemate, in the 2 3/4-mile Colonial Cup to close the season.

In 2016, Rawnaq turned out to be a more than adequate replacement for the stable’s star. Rawnaq went 2 for 2 during the spring, romping by 15 lengths in the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey going 2 1/2 miles despite conceding 14 pounds to runner-up Scorpiancer, and prevailing by a neck in the Grade 1 Iroquois at three miles, facing a strong field that included a pair of highly regarded European shippers, Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon.

:: Eclipse Awards: 2016 finalists with profiles

Freshened until fall, Rawnaq returned to capture America’s richest steeplechase, the Grade 1, $350,000 Grand National, by three-quarters of a length while setting a Far Hills course record for 2 5/8 miles of 4:50.

Rawnaq’s quest for a perfect season was foiled when he was overtaken by Top Striker in the stretch run and had to settle for second in the Grade 1 Colonial Cup.

Rawnaq’s $387,000 in purse earnings from his four starts propelled Naylor to a record year. Naylor’s horses bankrolled $997,600 as he narrowly missed becoming the first American to hit the $1 million mark in a single season with jumpers.

Naylor privately purchased Rawnaq, a son of Azamour, from trainer Matthew Smith in 2015. Rawnaq had a solid but not spectacular career racing in England and Ireland, including starts at Galway, Cheltenham, and Aintree. He was third in a Grade 3, $134,000 race at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2015, one start after winning the Grade 2 Flyingbolt steeplechase for novices going 2 1/8 miles.

The first target for Rawnaq in 2017 will come overseas. He is eligible for a $500,000 bonus if can win the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on March 16 in England. Rawnaq is likely to have a prep race in England to prepare for the big event.