A single Irish-trained winner in over 40 years underlines the challenge of Saturday’s Coral Gold Cup at Newbury but John McConnell’s Mahler Mission is rated a prime contender to change that statistic.
Co Meath-based McConnell is targeting the hugely prestigious handicap – formerly known as the Hennessy – with his young stayer who looked a likely winner of last season’s National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham only to fall at the second last fence.
Mahler Mission enjoyed a Carlisle pipe-opener over an inadequate trip when second earlier this month and is one of a trio of Irish trained horses among 23 entries after Monday’s latest acceptance stage.
Gavin Cromwell’s Stumptown and Max Flamingo from Francis Casey’s yard are also still in the mix for a race Willie Mullins landed in 2017 with Total Recall. He bridged a long gap back to Bright Highway in 1980. Mullins’s Be My Royal was first past the post in 2002 only to fail a post-race drugs test.
The big-race sponsor’s initial reaction to Monday’s entry stage was to install Mahler Mission a 7-1 joint-favourite with Complete Unknown. The latter’s trainer Paul Nicholls is chasing a fourth win in the race as a trainer. He also landed it twice as a jockey.
Stumptown is rated a 9-1 shot for Saturday’s race to continue Gavin Cromwell’s excellent run of cross-channel form this month.
“Hopefully Ahoy Senor [topweight] will run and keep the weights as they are,” Cromwell reported on Monday as Stumptown targets a first start since finishing unplaced in the Kerry National.
“His jumping has let him down and those fences in Listowel can do that with a horse and get sucked into the bottom of them. The English fences probably suit him a bit better.
“He was running a good race in Listowel until making a mistake about four out and he still wasn’t beaten that far,” he added.
Ground conditions at Newbury are currently “good to soft” although anticipated cold weather conditions could prove a concern to officials.
“The forecast is a bit variable between now and Saturday and there are lots of different outcomes which we will just continue to monitor and see how the latest models are looking like as we move through the next 24 hours.
“It’s a bit early to tell [if the meeting would be in danger] really, to be honest. There is wintery showers in there and frost risks – multiple things, really.
“It’s too early to say, but we’re still in November and there will be mild, wet nights and mild enough afternoons. So, we will just keep an eye on the forecast and react accordingly,” Newbury’s clerk of the course, George Hill, reported.
Saturday’s cross-channel Grade One highlight is the return of Constitution Hill in Newcastle’s Bet MGM Fighting Fifth Hurdle. The unbeaten Champion Hurdle winner will face a maximum five opponents in his attempt to win the race back-to-back.
Another top cross-channel prize that hasn’t reflected recent Irish dominance in National Hunt racing is the King George VI Chase at Kempton on St Stephens Day.
Tornado Flyer in 2021 is the sole Irish winner in the last decade and a half although Gordon Elliott’s weekend musings on whether he might send Gerri Colombe for the race next month saw the Gold Cup contender very popular in ante-post betting on Monday.
The progressive gelding, winner of the Ladbrokes Champion Chase on his return to action at Down Royal earlier this month, was cut to 3-1 favouritism by some firms.
Elliott had originally indicated Leopardstown’s Savills Chase would be Gerri Colombe’s next race but didn’t rule out the King George option either although he conceded: “I could change my mind ten times before then!”