Michael O’Sullivan is looking to end a brilliant 2023 on a high when Marine Nationale makes his eagerly-awaited chasing debut at Leopardstown.
It has been a stellar year for the young Irishman who turned professional in September 2022 and on joining forces with burgeoning handler Barry Connell, struck gold on the big stage numerous times.
Connell’s Good Land and Espanito Bello provided notable triumphs, but the ace in the pack was Marine Nationale, who gave O’Sullivan a taste of the big-time when winning the Royal Bond before following up in style at the Cheltenham Festival.
The classy Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner now embarks on a novice chase campaign, with the Paddy Power From The Horses Mouth Podcast Beginners Chase on December 27 the first port of call for the unbeaten six-year-old.
“He didn’t put a foot wrong and so far he is unbeaten in his career and obviously I am very lucky to be involved with him,” said O’Sullivan.
“He’s ran five times and won two Grade Ones, so it’s going to be hard to top last season, but we are very much looking forward to getting him over fences.
“It’s going to be a tougher ask and the horse is going to have to train on again, but we’re looking forward to it. It will be great to get him back on the racecourse and hopefully it goes well.
“All has gone well (so far), he’s very straightforward and hasn’t put a foot wrong. We just keep our fingers crossed all goes to plan.”
The belated chasing debut could be the first step on a journey connections hope takes them back to the Festival in March, where a rematch with Supreme runner-up Facile Vega in the Arkle could be on the cards.
“If he is as good as last year and hopefully we can get to March and get him to Cheltenham in the form he was last year, then you would be very much looking forward to that,” continued O’Sullivan.
“If it was a carbon copy (of the Supreme) that would be great, but that is going to be very hard to do. We’ll be trying our best.”
It was Marine Nationale that kick-started O’Sullivan and Connell’s association when they combined to claim a Punchestown bumper in May 2022.
Few could predict the success the duo would enjoy over the next 18 months, as O’Sullivan turned professional and repaid his loyal boss in spades as he swiftly became one of the weighing room’s brightest stars.
“After turning professional last September, I couldn’t have asked for it to have gone much better than it did,” added O’Sullivan.
“I was very lucky to come across some very nice horses for good people and got lots of support.”
O’Sullivan’s claim would quickly evaporate as he became one of the go-to men in the riding ranks and finished the season picking up rides for the likes of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, scoring aboard the latter’s Jazzy Matty at the Cheltenham Festival.
However, he saved his best performances in the saddle for those trained by Connell with the duo striking at Grade One level three times – twice with Marine Nationale and once with the talented Good Land.
“To win three Grade Ones in my first season as a professional, I’m under no illusion how lucky I am to come across those horses,” said O’Sullivan.
“Some people will go through their whole career looking for a Grade One horse and to find horses of that ability and for Barry to put his faith in me and for things to have gone so well, I will always be very grateful.
“It was a case of right place, right time for me and in racing you need a lot of luck and I was lucky I got a break and thanks to him, other trainers and owners have had the faith to put me up as well.”
The culmination of O’Sullivan’s terrific breakthrough season came at the Cheltenham Festival when an opening day double was highlighted by an ice-cool display in the saddle aboard Marine Nationale, a statement performance from man and horse at the very beginning of racing’s biggest week.
“It was the stuff dreams are made of and it is what you have been getting up as a kid to do,” reflected the rider.
“For that dream to come true was amazing and that whole week was magical. I was going there with some nice chances and high hopes of getting a winner, so to win the first race, the Supreme, in front of the crowd and with the atmosphere was amazing and then the other winner was a bonus.”