10/15/2016 3:22PM

Irish jockey Ruby Walsh scores with Rawnaq in Grand National


Owner Irv Naylor and trainer Cyril Murphy had to find a new jockey for star jumper Rawnaq after regular rider Jack Doyle sustained multiple injuries in a spill during the running of the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park on Sept. 22.

“It was very hard to replace the jockey,” Naylor said of Doyle, the leader on the National Steeplechase Association circuit this season with 11 wins and $500,200 in purse earnings. “He’s the best there is. We cast a very wide net.”

Naylor and Murphy wound up making a deal to bring Ruby Walsh, the 10-time champion Irish jump jockey, to come to America just to ride Rawnaq in the Grade 1, $350,000 Grand National at Far Hills, N.J.

“I didn’t have to be asked twice,” Walsh said. “Rawnaq is the best steeplechase horse in America. It was really a no-brainer.”

The long trip was worthwhile as Walsh rode Rawnaq to a three-quarter-length victory over Scorpiancer in the Grand National, the richest steeplechase event in North America. He completed 2 5/8 miles over a firm course in 4:50.

Scorpiancer, who became a Grade 1 winner in the Lonesome Glory, was easily second-best. Sharp Rise, one of two European imports in the field, contested the early pace with Rawnaq before fading to third.

Naylor and Murphy also teamed up to win last year’s Grand National with Dawalan, but the Eclipse Award champion was injured early this season, leaving Rawnaq as the stable’s capable replacement.

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Rawnaq, third in last year’s Grand National, is now 3 for 3 this season, all in graded stakes events.  A 9-year-old Irish-bred son of Azamour, Rawnaq had not jumped since winning the Grade 1 Iroquois in mid-May. His only tune-up came Sept. 24 at Shawan Downs, where he was a lackluster fourth in a 1 3/8-mile training race on the flat.

“The only thing against us was he hadn’t run since May,” said Murphy. “After the Iroquois, we gave him six weeks of jogging. Then during July and August, he was galloping. The race at Shawan tightened him for today.”

Rawnaq’s next major goal will be a trip to Cheltenham, England, next March with the lure of a $500,000 bonus if he can win the Grade 1  World Hurdle. English bookmakers have tabbed him a 33-1 longshot to pull off that feat.

In the undercard stakes:

The 6-year-old Special Skills, ridden by Paddy Young for leading trainer Jack Fisher, won the $100,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle for novices by a half-length over Ice It The winning time for 2 1/2 miles was 4:45.

Get Ready Set Go, 4 1/2-length winner of the Mrs. Ogden Phipps Handicap at Saratoga, collected her third straight win for owner-trainer Hill Parker in the $50,000 Peapack for fillies and mares. Richard Boucher rode the 4-year-old Get Ready, who ran 2 1/8 miles over National Fences in 4:09 and beat last year's Peapack winner, One Lucky Lady, by three-quarters of a length.

Perfect Union, ridden by Kieran Norris, inherited the lead when race-long leader Time Out fell at the final fence and won the $50,000 Appleton, a handicap at 2 5/8 miles, by 35 lengths. The winning time was 4:59.

Officer's Oath, coming off a maiden win three weeks ago, captured the $50,000 Gladstone for 3-year-olds by two lengths under jockey Sean McDermott. He ran 2 1/8 miles over National Fences in 4:10.

Le Chevalier overtook pacesetter Puller approaching the 19th of 20 fences and drew off to a convincing 11-length victory in the $50,000 New Jersey Hunt Cup, a 3 1/4-mile race over timber fences. The 7-year-old Le Chevalier, ridden by Mark Beecher, won for the first time in three starts since clearing his maiden condition in April. He completed the distance in 7:22.