McConnell on National Mission with Mahler

Mahler Mission could make John McConnell’s dreams come true when the trainer ends his long wait to saddle a Randox Grand National runner at Aintree.

The County Meath handler sent out the ill-fated Fennor Cross to score during the Grand National meeting on Merseyside 12 months ago, but he is still to field a contender in the world’s most famous steeplechase.

McConnell’s Some Neck came agonisingly close to making the final line-up when first reserve in 2021, while 23-year-old jockey Ben Harvey also missed out on a first taste of the famous spruce on that occasion and is fulfilling Aintree ambitions a few years later than anticipated.

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Mahler Mission is a leading Grand National contender
Mahler Mission is a leading Grand National contender (Gary Carson/PA)

“If we get there it will be our first runner, so it will be a big day for us all,” said McConnell.

“We’re not going to change anything that’s not broken so Ben will ride him. Mahler Mission looks like he has the right kind of profile for it, so it will be exciting.

“It will probably be our biggest day, we’ve had a nice bit of success, but if we could pull this off it will be a huge moment in both our careers.

“He’s probably the best horse I’ve had and in terms of rating he is anyway. I do think we haven’t yet seen the best of him and for sure he is definitely one of our stars.”

John McConnell saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner in 2023
John McConnell saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner in 2023 (Mike Egerton/PA)

McConnell has already fulfilled many of his goals in life, with Seddon’s success at Cheltenham last year sealing the ambition of a Festival winner, while big-race success in both codes is enough to keep any trainer content with their lot.

However, the Grand National is a different beast and like many who have come before, it is a race McConnell craves to add to his growing roll of honour.

“Like Cheltenham, winning this race is another childhood dream and it doesn’t get much bigger than the Grand National,” continued McConnell.

“To potentially have a runner with a chance is huge. I have always loved the National and it would mean an awful lot to me (if he could win) and in regards my team, they do all the hard work, so for everyone involved it would be massive for them.”

The Rockview Stables handler admits to wondering what it could be like to lift the Grand National trophy aloft in Liverpool, but is taking a relaxed approach across the Irish Sea as he prepares to saddle his most important runner to date.

“If you don’t dream about it then you are probably in the wrong game,” said McConnell.

“But I’m pretty relaxed about it, even though it’s a big thing. I’m really relaxed for some reason and what will be will be.

“I’m going to set out to enjoy it rather than stress about it and hopefully it all works out, it would be a dream come true.”

It was at Cheltenham where Grand National dreams first came to fruition
It was at Cheltenham where Grand National dreams first came to fruition (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

Mahler Mission has long been a standout performer of McConnell’s Stamullen operation and right from his days over hurdles was making successful trips to the UK.

Victories over timber in the Grade Two River Don and in a Perth Listed event highlighted Mahler Mission’s capabilities, but it wasn’t until his novice chasing days and a stellar effort at the Cheltenham Festival in the National Hunt Chase that Grand National dreams were truly ignited.

On that occasion the eight-year-old had built up a commanding lead in the staying novice contest before crashing out two from home. But McConnell had seen enough to start thinking of Aintree the following season.

“I suppose when he ran so well in the National Hunt Chase last year it was steering us this way a little bit and he backed it up with some good runs this year,” continued McConnell.

“When you get to the rating he has, there are not a lot of places you can go anyway and it is such a good pot as well for the National, it is certainly worth having a crack at.

“We would love to have a bit of luck on our side and it would be great to be competitive, but the main thing is he comes back in one piece.”

If Mahler Mission’s novice chase campaign planted a Grand National seed in McConnel’s head, then his two performances so far this season have only reaffirmed Aintree ambitions.

Second to a resurgent Thunder Rock at Carlisle on reappearance, he then marched on to Newbury where he combatted a less than ideal build-up to the Coral Gold Cup and losing two front shoes during the race, to finish a highly commendable runner-up.



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Mahler Mission after running at Newbury in the Coral Gold Cup
Mahler Mission after running at Newbury in the Coral Gold Cup (PA)

The wet winter means Mahler Mission has been safely tucked away in his box since that Berkshire raid, but McConnell has no concerns about the long lay-off for his frequent traveller as the day that has been keeping his team dreaming through the last few months fast approaches.

McConnell added: “He travelled like a class horse in the race at Newbury and the winner got a great ride and probably ground it out. We probably had a bit of an interrupted preparation going into the race, so we were delighted with the run and we hope he can come forward again.

“I’ve no real worries about him not running since and I can get him fit at home. He’s had a racecourse gallop and I’m not too worried.

“He travels no problem and is a very relaxed horse. We’re very happy with him at home and at the minute we’re firmly on course anyway.

“No one really knows how he will get on (at Aintree) until he goes and does it. But he’s a very mentally tough horse, so you would be hopeful he will take to the fences well. After that I suppose it will all be about staying out of trouble and that’s more luck than anything. You would be very hopeful he would be OK in regard to the fences.

“This is why you go through the winters in the freezing weather, to get to these days and if we’re lucky enough to capture it, then it would be a dream come true for everyone.”

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