Grand National Mission not yet certain for Mahler

By Sports Desk December 04, 2023

A decision on whether Coral Gold Cup runner-up Mahler Mission will be aimed at the Randox Grand National has yet to be made following his fine effort in defeat at Newbury on Saturday.

Having looked the likely winner of the National Hunt Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival before falling two fences from home, the seven-year-old made a promising return when second at Carlisle last month, teeing him up for an appearance in one of the year’s most prestigious handicaps.

Mahler Mission travelled powerfully and fenced fluently for much of the three-and-a-quarter-mile journey before being reeled in by the patiently ridden Datsalrightgino.

While proud of his stable star’s performance, John McConnell was left wondering what might have been after admitting his preparation was not entirely trouble-free, while the fact he finished without his two front shoes could not have been a help.

McConnell said: “Overall, we were delighted, he ran a great race and just got beaten by one on the day. We were very happy with him and we’ve got plenty to look forward to.

“He travelled very well and it looked like he got outstayed nearly in the end. We didn’t have the clearest of runs up to it, so maybe he was a little bit short, but I’m not going to make excuses – when you’re second in a race like that, it’s great.

“People forget that was only his seventh run over fences, so it was definitely a big deal.”

Mahler Mission is a 16-1 joint-favourite for the Grand National with Paddy Power, but he is not yet certain to make the trip to Aintree in April.

“I have to talk to the owners and see what they want to do,” McConnell added.

“Obviously, the National has been talked about a lot and if that’s going to be a target, we’ll have to sit down and work back from that.

“It’s obviously a major race and it would be great to be a part of it, but at the same time you’re kind of sacrificing your season nearly to set yourself up for it, so it’s a hard call.

“I’ll have to speak to the owners and see what they’re thinking. With the mark he has, you’d like to take advantage of it, so if we were going to go down that road, we wouldn’t want to be any higher (in the handicap) than we are and that would frame our whole season.

“We’re just not sure if we’re going to aim for that yet. On Saturday, we didn’t really discuss it, we were just happy for him to have run so well.”

Mahler Mission holds an entry in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown on December 27, but he appears unlikely to line up in that lucrative contest if the National is confirmed as his major target.

“Again, it depends on the route we’re going to take. The Paddy Power itself is a good race with plenty of prize-money on offer, so it is an option,” said McConnell.

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  • National glory has no chance of getting old for McManus National glory has no chance of getting old for McManus

    Leading owner JP McManus finished an incredible three-days at Aintree by watching I Am Maximus provide him with a thrilling third triumph in the Randox Grand National.

    The famous green and gold silks of McManus were a frequent sight in the winner’s enclosure over the three-day meeting in Liverpool, with the Emmet Mullins-trained Its On The Line scoring over the Grand National fences in the Foxhunters on Thursday before a Grade One treble on Friday afternoon.

    Inothewayurthinkin, Mystical Power and Jonbon were all successful on day two, but the best was still to come.

    Although McManus had spoken of his liking for the chance of Limerick Lace – bred by his wife, Noreen – in the lead-up to the world’s most famous steeplechase, it was his first colours that were carried to victory by the Willie Mullins-trained favourite, I Am Maximus, who ran out the most impressive of winners in the hands of Paul Townend.

    Flanked by his grandchildren, McManus was lifting the trophy for a third time as I Am Maximus joined the likes of Rhyme ‘n’ Reason, Bobbyjo and Numbersixvalverde to follow up victory in the Irish Grand National on Merseyside.

    In the aftermath he was keen to stress his love for both the great race and Aintree, and told ITV: “I love everything about the race.

    “I love Liverpool, the excitement of coming here, the build-up to the National, it’s just a very, very special place. When you win it’s a wonderful spectacle.

    “The Grand National, you are always looking forward to it and what you might have for the next one because it is such a special race.

    “Willie planned the campaign with this horse a long time back and thankfully it worked out.”

    McManus has already played a key part in National history having provided Sir Anthony McCoy with a long-awaited Aintree success when Don’t Push It struck in 2010, while that was topped in 2021 when Rachael Blackmore rode herself into the record books aboard Minella Times in the Irishman’s colours.

  • ‘Game on’ – Mullins has sights firmly set on British trainers’ title ‘Game on’ – Mullins has sights firmly set on British trainers’ title

    Willie Mullins said it was “game on” in his pursuit of a first British trainers’ championship as I Am Maximus provided him with a second Randox Grand National victory.

    While it has taken 19 years for him to follow up his initial success with Hedgehunter, his domination of the National Hunt scene on both sides of the Irish Sea is now such that he is odds-on across the board to win a title in a country in which he does not even reside.

    The prospect of emulating the legendary Vincent O’Brien – who did it in successive years in the 1950s – has loomed large ever since Mullins once again commanded the Cheltenham Festival, winning the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup in the process.

    Mullins himself, though, played down the prospect, with one proviso – unless he won the £1 million National.

    I Am Maximus was sent off the 7-1 favourite under Paul Townend, one of eight runners for the yard, and despite one or two hairy moments that are generally par for the course in a Grand National, he seldom looked like not winning.

    With a lead of almost £40,000 over Dan Skelton, Paddy Power make Mullins the 8-15 favourite, and British racegoers certainly have not seen the last of the man from Closutton this season.

    “I didn’t know we’d gone in front. You can expect to see us at Sandown, Ayr and wherever!” he said.

    “We’ll have to go for it now. We needed to have a really good National and we have. It’s game on now, isn’t it.

    “I’d love to win the championship. Vincent O’Brien has done it in the 1950s and it is something different to do.

    “As much as I’d like to win it my owners would like me to win it and so would my staff, so now we’re in this position you have to have a real go.

    “JP McManus (owner of I Am Maximus) has been telling me for the past couple of years to have a real go, but I always think just mind yourself at home rather than spread yourself too thin and leave yourself wide open to have a bad season at home.

    “Travelling horses takes it out of them, especially early in the season, which is why we don’t do it, but it’s panned out well today.”

    Mullins himself is taken aback by the quantity of the quality in his yard. But even for him, winning the Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and the National is something special.

    “You might have the favourites for all those races, but you don’t for one minute think you are going to win all three,” he said.

    “We can’t believe it at home. We’re gobsmacked looking at the talent we have in the yard. When I was a smaller trainer I’d be proud to have one of the barns that we have.

    “I have an amazing team, I don’t think I saddled a runner at Cheltenham, I let them do it and it probably works better when I’m not involved.

    “If someone had said we’d have 100 winners at the Festival you wouldn’t have thought it was possible, so we’re as amazed as anyone that it happened.”

    So it could be a very different end to the season for Mullins, with Sandown and Ayr occupying his thoughts rather than Punchestown, but Townend may not be on many of them.

    “We have a different programme nowadays to when Vincent won it. I find the English programme very hard to navigate, it seems to be a lot of handicaps and that is tough on horses,” Mullins said.

    “I’ll let David Casey (assistant), who plans those things, get to work on it. He’ll be working overtime over the next two or three weeks!

    “Paul has a title of his own to try to win so I’m not sure if he’ll be coming over, he’s got four winners to make up on Jack Kennedy.”

  • ‘The National exactly as we want it’ – Jockey Club chief hails Aintree changes ‘The National exactly as we want it’ – Jockey Club chief hails Aintree changes

    “The National exactly as we want it” – that was the verdict of Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale after the first running of the Randox Grand National under new conditions.

    A number of revisions were made to the famous four-and-a-quarter-mile chase this year, not least reducing the maximum field from 40 to 34 runners – although two late withdrawals meant 32 horses actually went to post for the earlier 4pm start.

    The pre-race parade was altered to a canter in front of the stands, with a standing start implemented and the first fence moved closer to the off. The 11th fence was also reduced in height by two inches on the take-off side, with some ‘levelling off’ on the landing side to reduce the height of the drop.

    The changes resulted in 21 finishers and no official fallers in the Aintree showpiece, although last year’s winner Corach Rambler did come down at the second fence when running loose after unshipping his rider at the first obstacle.

    Truesdale said: “We’re absolutely delighted, the changes have clearly had a very positive impact. I think it was probably the cleanest National I’ve ever seen.

    “You’ve got to go back to 1992 to find more finishers, so we’re really pleased. I think the standing start seemed to work and I thought the jockeys were very sensible and it was a very well-ridden race, great credit to all involved.

    “It was a really exciting finish, the National exactly as we want it.”

    Clerk of the course Sulekha Varma echoed Truesdale’s thoughts, although she is keen to see what impact moving the first fence closer to the start had on the speed at which the field met the initial obstacle.

    She said: “Everybody is coming up to me saying what a good race to watch it was, it was exciting and there were so many horses still in contention and we had a fabulous winner.

    “There’ll always be time for review and analysis, it’s not right now, but we do that every year. As it stands we are very pleased so all credit to the jockeys and to everybody involved in the race, it’s been great.

    “A few people have said they thought the standing start worked well which is great, I need to find out what speed they got to going to the first. What a shame for Corach that he went at the first, but there’s been some great performances and they all came back safe and sound.”

    Given the very wet winter and spring so far, there had been fears the going would be heavy on the National course. But after some drying weather, the race was eventually run on soft ground.

    Varma added: “The ground hasn’t been bad, there were one or two doomsayers before we started. I bit my tongue and decided to wait to see how it rode, but overall I’m pleased.”

    Critics of the changes felt the reduced field in particular would detract from the Aintree spectacle, but Rachael Blackmore, who won the race on Minella Times in 2021 and finished third this year on Minella Indo, did not feel the race lost any excitement.

    She said: “I got a nice passage round and had plenty of space when I wanted it. It was still a fantastic race to ride in.”

    Retired multiple champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy said: “It was the most wonderful finish. I’ve never seen so many horses in with a chance of winning the Grand National so late in the race. What an incredible race – just a brilliant spectacle.”

    Ruby Walsh, who won the Grand National twice, added: “If that doesn’t convince people that this is a wonderful sport then I don’t know what will.”

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