Barry Connell’s Marine Nationale is a rarity at the Dublin Racing Festival this weekend in that he is the red-hot favourite for the Goffs Irish Arkle and not trained by Willie Mullins.
Ireland’s champion trainer generally flexes his muscles at the meeting and of the eight Grade One contests across the two-day fixture, Mullins houses the ante-post market leaders for every race but this one.
The exciting Gaelic Warrior, so impressive at Limerick over Christmas, was suggested as a possible challenger, but Mullins will instead look to Facile Vega to lead his team.
Everything has gone smoothly for Connell, though, with his unbeaten Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner from last season seemingly holding all the aces.
“We’ve had a clear run with the horse, everything has been good with no hiccups,” said Connell.
“He looks the one to beat on all known form and ratings and so forth. It’s a small field and he’s a course and distance winner already, so that in itself is a positive.
“He loves jumping and I think the ground will probably dry out, I think it’ll be no worse than yielding ground and this horse goes on anything from good ground to soft ground, so that’s not going to be an issue.
“Normally Willie doesn’t say anything, but he got everybody excited about a big clash with Gaelic Warrior and then changed his mind at the last minute.
“We can only talk about our own horse and we’re happy to take on whoever turns up.”
Connell went on: “He’s the first horse that I’ve had that has the ability that he has. We haven’t got to the bottom of him yet.
“He’s very straightforward, which is massive when you get into these big festivals, you know he isn’t going to boil over and give the race away because he’s too nervous about things. He never turns a hair.
“Touch wood, he seems to have the full package and it’s our job to keep him sound.”
Facile Vega was put in his place last time out by Gordon Elliott’s Found A Fifty in a Boxing Day Grade One and the two clash again.
“He’s in good form, he came out of the race very well, so we’re looking forward to running him again,” said Elliott.
“There’s six declared in it, Facile Vega and Barry Connell’s horse, who was very good the last day, so he’s the horse we’re all going to have to beat. We’re looking forward to running him and it looks a good race.”
As for Mullins, the final gameplan was made due to the way Facile Vega has been working since his defeat, as it had looked as if he would be stepping up in trip.
“Marine Nationale is obviously the horse to beat. He was very good over Christmas and has just had the one run over fences,” said Mullins. “But I’m much happier with Facile since Christmas.”
The champion trainer also runs Il Etait Temps and multiple Grade One winner Sharjah, while outsider Senecia completes the field.
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