01/25/2017 11:45AM

Steeplechase champion Rawnaq will miss 2017 season

Tod Marks
Rawnaq sustained a soft tissue injury while training last week in Maryland.

Just days after he was honored with an Eclipse Award as the champion steeplechase horse of 2016, Rawnaq was pronounced out for the entire 2017 season as the result of an injury he sustained while training for his shot at a $500,000 bonus in March.

Last Friday, following a training session at owner Irv Naylor’s farm in Butler, Md., Rawnaq did not look right to trainer Cyril Murphy. Upon examination, Rawnaq was found to have sustained a soft tissue injury that will prevent him from racing this year.

Although the unspecified injury would not be considered career-ending for a younger horse, the fact that Rawnaq is 10 years old makes it unlikely he would be able to come back as an 11-year-old and compete at the highest level of competition for jumpers.

“Our only priority now is making sure he’s comfortable,” Murphy said.

Rawnaq was preparing for the Stayers’ Hurdle in mid-March at the Cheltenham Festival in England. As the winner of last season’s Grade 1 Iroquois, Rawnaq was eligible for a $500,000 bonus if he could defeat Britain’s best jumpers this spring. The plan was to ship Rawnaq to Europe on Feb. 1 and run him in a prep race at Fontwell on Feb. 26.

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“Needless to say, Diane and I are devastated,” said Naylor, referring to his wife. “We were so looking forward to traveling to England to compete in the Stayers’ Hurdle in March. We are disappointed not only for ourselves and Rawnaq but also for our lead trainer, Cyril Murphy, and the staff members who care for Rawnaq every day and love him as much as we do.”

A year ago, Rawnaq rose to prominence following a season-ending injury to stablemate Dawalan, the 2015 Eclipse Award steeplechase champion.

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.

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.

Naylor privately purchased Rawnaq, a son of Azamour, from trainer Matthew Smith in 2015. The horse has won 11 of 52 starts and $609,955, including $387,000 in 2016.