2016 Cheltenham Festival: Mulholland hungry for more success
David Metcalf | February 19, 2016
Trainer Neil Mulholland saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner last year, and is hungry for more success at the 2016 edition of the four-day Prestbury Park spectacular, having assembled a strong looking team to go to war with.
The Druids Nephew put the icing on a career-best season for Mulholland when capturing Ultima Handicap Chase glory on the opening day last March in terrific style.
Born in Northern Ireland on October 27, 1980, Mulholland took out a licence in 2008 and has quickly established himself as one of jump racing’s most promising young trainers.
He hit the headlines during the 2010/11 season with popular chaser Midnight Chase, who racked up a hat-trick of wins in staying handicap chases at Cheltenham before finishing fifth behind Long Run in the Gold Cup.
Former journeyman jump jockey Mulholland relocated from Devon to nearby Somerset in 2012 and has not looked back, with last season yielding a maiden half century of winners, with his horses earning over £400k in prize money.
Druids success best day in racing career
Of his stable star, Mulholland said: “The Druids Nephew winning at The Festival would have to be my best day in racing so far. We knew he was great order going there and everything just came together nicely. It’s not every day a plan like that comes to fruition.
“The Ultima Handicap Chase had been the target ever since his run in the Hennessy. He finished seventh that day, but he had hit a couple of fences on the way round and that told us that he was nicely handicapped.
“The Festival is our World Cup or Olympic Games. It comes and goes very quickly and if anyone wants to have winner anywhere, it’s Cheltenham.”
Sweet on the chances of Southfield Royale
Mulholland has assembled a nice team of young horses ahead of the four-day showpiece next month, led by Grade 2 scorers Southfield Royale and Shantou Village.
“Southfield Royale is one I am looking forward to in the National Hunt Chase,” Mulholland added. “He looks to have a good chance. All has been well with him since Kempton, I just decided against running him on heavy ground at Wetherby.
“The plan was to run, but what is the point when the ground is like that? We had already won a Grade Two by 13 lengths and then he was runner-up in a Grade One, so he doesn’t have anything to prove.
“We want to win the four-miler and there is a good chance you will leave races behind running on ground like that five weeks before Cheltenham. I wouldn’t have any concerns about going up to four miles. All he does is gallop.”
Southfield Royale is currently 8/1 third-favourite with Coral for the National Hunt Chase on Tuesday, March 15th.
Albert Bartlett likely target for Shantou Village
“The plan is definitely for Shantou Village to go to Cheltenham,” Mulholland continued. “If it happened to be heavy ground, I would not go but I can’t see that happening.
“I was happy with him on Festival Trials Day (when runner-up to Yanworth in the Grade Two Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle). He was having his first run back from a break on ground we weren’t sure about and, as it turned out, he hated it.
“All his rivals had the benefit of a recent run but he was still 10 lengths clear of the third Champers On Ice who is a good horse in his own right. The form is there for everyone to see.
“Can he improve? Yes, he will improve for getting that run under his belt and for better ground. We won’t be making any decisions about which novice hurdle he goes for until nearer the time.
“Stamina is not going to be a problem if we decide to go up in trip and, to be honest, the Albert Bartlett probably looks the weaker race at the moment.”
Shantou Village is 6/1 second-favoruite with Coral for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on Friday, March 18th.
Rock on course for Arkle
Mulholland also revealed plans for recent recruit Baltimore Rock and some of the more-established members of his team.
“I would say Fox Norton is unlikely to run, but Baltimore Rock will probably go for the Arkle,” Mulholland added. “He won his first start over fences and then was second to a good horse at Chepstow recently.
The winner’s form ties in with some very good horses and we were trying to give him 11lb on ground softer than ideal.
“The Young Master goes for the race The Druids Nephew won last year, the Ultima Handicap Chase, and I think he is capable of running a huge race in that.
Coral make Baltimore Rock a 50/1 chance for the Arkle, with The Young Master 16/1 joint second-favourite to scoop the Ultima.
Minella Present has “great chance” in Grand Annual
“Minella Present looks to have a great chance in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase ,” Mulholland added.
“He had a very good run when second to Keel Haul at the November meeting and we put him away after with this race in mind. He is in great order.
“We look to have a nice team of horses and hopefully everything goes smoothly between now and The Festival.”