McConnell hoping to see Mahler Mission accomplished at Newbury

John McConnell is out to put a recent quiet spell behind him by claiming one of the biggest victories of his training career so far in the “iconic” Coral Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday.

The County Meath handler is one of coming forces on the Irish jumps scene, as advertised my multiple Graded-race victories in recent years and a first Cheltenham Festival success with Seddon last season.

Mahler Mission may well be a Festival hero himself, had he not fallen two fences from home when still bang in contention in the National Hunt Chase in March.

And following a pleasing comeback run when second in the Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle last month, the seven-year-old will line up this weekend with leading claims.

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“I’m very happy with him, everything has gone well and we’re looking forward to it,” said McConnell.

“He’s travelled over and travelled fine, everything is good that way and there’s not a bother on him.

“Conditions should be OK, so we’re looking for a trouble-free run and after that we’ll see what happens.

“We were delighted with Carlisle. I think given it was two and a half miles on a right-handed track it was a very good run, and this trip should be more suitable.”

John McConnell with Seddon at Cheltenham
John McConnell with Seddon at Cheltenham (Mike Egerton/PA)

While Mahler Mission clearly has plenty going for him, there are a couple of obvious negatives.

Not only has McConnell gone over 50 days and saddled more than 40 runners since his last winner, but the Irish also have a surprisingly poor record in the former Hennessy Gold Cup, with the victory of the Willie Mullins-trained Total Recall in 2017 a first for the raiding party since Bright Highway’s success in 1980.

McConnell, though, remains positive, adding: “We’ve been a little bit quiet, but the jumps horses have been running mainly OK and it’s very competitive at this time of year, so I’m not overly worried.

“The Irish don’t have a great record in the race, I don’t know if there’s a particular reason, but hopefully we can change that.

“It’s one of the iconic races I’ve grown up watching and to have a runner in it is great, to think about winning it is just unreal.”

There is a second major contender from Ireland in the form of Gavin Cromwell’s Stumptown.

The six-year-old has disappointed in his last three races, but had previously looked a likely candidate for a race of this nature by winning at Sandown and finishing second in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham.

Cromwell said: “He’s in great nick and has a lovely racing weight, so hopefully he will have a good chance.

“The last day he ran in the Kerry National he made a mistake, I think it was four out, and wasn’t beaten far, so it wasn’t that bad of a run.

“When he was pulled up in the Irish Grand National it was quite soon after Cheltenham and it was run on very soft ground, which probably wasn’t ideal.”

Complete Unknown winning over hurdles at Sandown
Complete Unknown winning over hurdles at Sandown (Steven Paston/PA)

The home team is headed by Complete Unknown, who bids to provide Paul Nicholls with a fourth victory in the race as a trainer and a sixth overall, having also ridden the winner twice in the 1980s aboard Broadheath and Playschool.

Nicholls told Betfair: “This race has been his target since he came back into training early in July. Second-season chasers have a great record in the Coral Gold Cup and he comes to Newbury in top form after a tidy win at Newton Abbot in October when he was only half fit. That was his first start since a wind op in the summer and he has improved tons for the outing.

“Complete Unknown schooled really well on Thursday and we are very happy with him. Most of his form is on testing ground, but that is mainly down to circumstance and he was an excellent second to Gerri Colombe on good to soft going at Aintree in April. As long as the ground at Newbury is similar he should be fine.”

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Dan and Harry Skelton combined to win last year’s Coral Gold Cup with Le Milos and are out to repeat the feat with Midnight River, who returns to handicap company after finishing third in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on his seasonal debut.

Harry Skelton celebrates after winning on Midnight River at Aintree
Harry Skelton celebrates after winning on Midnight River at Aintree (David Davies/The Jockey Club)

“Midnight River is very well and this is what we have had our eye on for a while with him. He jumped on Wednesday morning and that told us everything is ready,” said the trainer.

“I was delighted with his run in the Charlie Hall, he couldn’t beat the first two that day, we tried to go with them turning in but he didn’t have that class if you like, but he’s improved a good bit since then and we’ve aimed at this ever since.

“He’s been in all those top handicaps last season so he does have that experience, but I’m sure it will be a very good race, it always is.”

Other contenders include Lucinda Russell’s top-weight Ahoy Senor and the Sam Thomas-trained pair of Stolen Silver and Our Power.

Russell said in her blog for William Hill: “He’s a very classy horse, but it is a heck of a weight to carry round. He’s run very well round Newbury before, where the fences suit him, and I think we’ll see a much-improved performance from his run at Wetherby.

“At an each-way price I think he’s been overlooked and we think finishing in the first four would be a satisfactory result. I’m quite bullish about him in a way because he’ll be much better for his comeback run, but it’s a big field and he has to carry top-weight.”

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