By our own admission, the quality of summer Jump fixtures caters generally for less than top flight horses with some notable exceptions. The long traditions of the British season mean the best horses are always held back for softer conditions underfoot in the winter months and high profile races on ITV.
However, as has been amply illustrated over the weekend, it doesn’t always have to be like this. The US steeplechase scene enjoys little or no TV coverage, no betting revenue, but huge crowds and sponsorship patronage we could only wish for over here.
The most valuable of five Grade I races in the NSA – sanctioned race calendar is the highlight of the Spring calendar, at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tennessee, the latest destination on the world tour of globe-trotting trainer Willie Mullins. The Irish have form in US Jump racing. Hewick was one of four Irish runners sent over to Far Hills in New Jersey last October to win the Grand National Hurdle for Shark Hanlon, a race previously won by Brain Power and Nicky Henderson.
Scaramanga, fourth in the Coral Cup, was Mullins’ candidate to run in the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois Steeplechase over 3 miles, pitched against a strong home team that included Jack Fisher’s Snap Decision, aiming to win the race for a record third time in a hattrick. Mullins has tilted at the Iroquois before: he fielded the runner-up and third in 2016.
Assistant trainer Patrick Mullins accompanied the horse to Nashville and reported to the Racing Post: “It was brilliant for Scaramanga. To win one of the marquee races out in America is very special. It was definitely one of the highlights of the year. He was in good form and ran very well at when fourth in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham and he seems to have improved again.” Scaramanga under Paul Townend ran out a decisive winner.
Several of the US race meets are very well endowed, including Far Hills, the Iroquois and the Virginia Gold Cup. Whilst they appeal to a certain type of horse, it makes excellent sense for summer venues to pair up with a view to attracting good quality horses to travel between the two jurisdictions. US backing for some valuable summer contests over here doesn’t look out of the question.