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High expectations for Un De Sceaux: John O’Connell Interview

Willie Mullins is rolling into town, parking his tanks on the Cheltenham lawns and loading up some of his biggest guns for the opening day of this year’s Festival.

If saddling the likes of Douvan, Annie Power, Faugheen and Hurricane Fly was not enough, Mullins also sends in arguably the most exciting horse in training in the shape of Un De Sceaux for the Racing Post Arkle on Tuesday.

Un De Sceaux has been exhilarating since bursting on to the scene at Punchestown in February 2013 and has been wowing us with his performances on the course, never more so than over fences this season. The seven-year-old fell on his debut over fences with the race at his mercy, but has been flawless since and made mincemeat of his two rivals in the Grade 1 Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle at Leopardstown in January. As a result, Un De Sceaux lines up in the Arkle on Tuesday with huge expectations and John O’Connell, who owns the star novice with his brothers and father Eddie, is enjoying the ride.

“It’s great and I just hope he comes right on the day and it all goes right in the race,” he says. “Watching his races you are just counting down the fences and making sure nothing is going wrong. It’s nervous watching him so we’ll be pleased if he jumps the last and we are there or thereabouts. He had a fall in Thurles and both Ruby [Walsh] and Willie felt it was just a novicey fall. Since then he’s after learning from it and he still goes at such a great speed. Ruby says he’s getting used to riding him over fences more and he listens to him a bit more.”

The crowds at Cheltenham will be getting their first taste of Un De Sceaux in the Racing Post Arkle after he last year bypassed the meeting, and a potential shot at the Champion Hurdle, and instead head to France, where he claimed to race at Auteuil. O’Connell admits Mullins was right to miss Cheltenham and that Un De Sceaux has matured both physically and mentally since last year.

“Looking back now it was the right thing not to go to Cheltenham last year,” O’Connell says. “He was too young and hadn’t had a lot of racing but he’s a lot more settled now.”

Tuesday’s race is no done deal, though, according to O’Connell, who nevertheless believes there is no better combination than Mullins and Walsh to bring home his star in front in the Racing Post Arkle.

“Paul Nicholls has got a good horse in there [with Vibrato Valtat] as has Nicky Henderson [with Josses Hill] and there’s Clarcam of course,” O’Connell says. “Like Willie says, he needs to jump and has to deal with all the hype in and around the parade ring and then come up the hill too. He’s in the right hands though. He travels grand and I’m sure he’ll be at his best for the meeting. As long as everything goes right and he gets to the start in one piece then it’s up to Ruby to bring him home, but he’s such a talented horse that I think he’ll be very hard to beat.”

Un De Sceaux is one of just two horses O’Connell and his family have running for them at the moment and he is finding it slightly surreal to be surrounded by such illustrious company at the races.

He says: “It’s amazing to be in the parade ring among these other big owners. We met JP McManus and Michael O’Leary and the Gigginstown boys, who all came up and congratulated us, after his win last time.

“To be able to be in the parade ring with the people we’re used to seeing on television is great and it a wonderful experience rubbing shoulders with them.”