Tag Archive for: John McConnell

McConnell star Seddon set for return at Punchestown Festival

John McConnell’s popular and versatile performer Seddon is set to return to action at the Punchestown Festival.

The 11-year-old provided connections with an unforgettable day at the races when landing the Magners Plate Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last year.

He then reverted to hurdles for the Fitzwilliam Sports Handicap Hurdle at Punchestown’s flagship meeting last term, capping a successful season with another valuable triumph.

A run on the Flat preceded his jumping campaign this season, which then began when he was beaten only a neck in the Deacy Gilligan Hurdle at Galway in September.

Seddon then looked to emulate Shark Hanlon’s Hewick when he set sail for Far Hills in New Jersey to contest the American Grand National, a race in which he finished third for owners the Galaxy Horse Racing Syndicate.

The gelding met with a setback after the run and has not been seen since as a result, but now he has returned to action and is being aimed at the Punchestown Festival to kick off a campaign that will run throughout the warmer months.

“He’s Punchestown-bound and hopefully he goes there in good shape, that’s the plan with him,” said McConnell.

“He had a setback in America and we had to do a little procedure on him and he’s coming back from that now.

“He’s in good shape and we’re hopeful that we can get a good run with him now, he’ll probably stay on into the summer.

“We haven’t had much of a campaign with him so we’re hoping we can get him back to form and kick on with him.”

Punchestown redemption Mission a possibility for Mahler

John McConnell’s Mahler Mission could head to the Punchestown Gold Cup if he fares well following his Randox Grand National mishap.

The eight-year-old was fairly well backed for the world’s most famous steeplechase, starting at 18-1 under Ben Harvey having finished second in both the Colin Parker at Carlisle and the Coral Gold Cup earlier in the term.

Last season he looked a sure winner of the three-mile-six-furlong National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival before falling close to home, a luckless run that nevertheless demonstrated his stamina.

That stamina was set to be put to the test at Aintree but luck abandoned Mahler Mission again as he got a little too close to The Chair and unseated his rider on landing.

The horse then ran loose for the rest of the contest and actually crossed the line riderless in second place, though thankfully he was unharmed after his exertions.

Assuming all is well following the trip to Liverpool, he will remain in action into the spring, with Punchestown high up on his agenda and a foray to France also a possibility.

“He’s got a few scratches and knocks but he’s fine, he’s all good,” said McConnell.

“He was just warming into it, we were getting to be happy with where he was but you just can’t leave your back legs in The Chair and he paid the price.

“It’s a frustrating thing to happen but he came back in one piece and that’s the most important thing.”

The National could feature in McConnell’s plans for Mahler Mission next term and more immediately there is Punchestown on the horizon.

“It was a bit stressful (when he was loose) but when he got to the front he was fine, he was bounding away and seemed to enjoy it so we might go back,” McConnell said.

“He’s in the Punchestown Gold Cup at the end of the month and that’s a possibility, there’s also a couple of races in France.

“Everything’s up in the air and if he didn’t run again this season it wouldn’t be a big deal and we’d just make a plan for next season, but at the minute Punchestown is on the agenda if everything’s OK.”

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.

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.

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.”

Grand National Mission not yet certain for Mahler

A decision on whether Coral Gold Cup runner-up Mahler Mission will be aimed at the Randox Grand National has yet to be made following his fine effort in defeat at Newbury on Saturday.

Having looked the likely winner of the National Hunt Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival before falling two fences from home, the seven-year-old made a promising return when second at Carlisle last month, teeing him up for an appearance in one of the year’s most prestigious handicaps.

Mahler Mission travelled powerfully and fenced fluently for much of the three-and-a-quarter-mile journey before being reeled in by the patiently ridden Datsalrightgino.

While proud of his stable star’s performance, John McConnell was left wondering what might have been after admitting his preparation was not entirely trouble-free, while the fact he finished without his two front shoes could not have been a help.

McConnell said: “Overall, we were delighted, he ran a great race and just got beaten by one on the day. We were very happy with him and we’ve got plenty to look forward to.

“He travelled very well and it looked like he got outstayed nearly in the end. We didn’t have the clearest of runs up to it, so maybe he was a little bit short, but I’m not going to make excuses – when you’re second in a race like that, it’s great.

“People forget that was only his seventh run over fences, so it was definitely a big deal.”

Mahler Mission is a 16-1 joint-favourite for the Grand National with Paddy Power, but he is not yet certain to make the trip to Aintree in April.

“I have to talk to the owners and see what they want to do,” McConnell added.

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

“Obviously, the National has been talked about a lot and if that’s going to be a target, we’ll have to sit down and work back from that.

“It’s obviously a major race and it would be great to be a part of it, but at the same time you’re kind of sacrificing your season nearly to set yourself up for it, so it’s a hard call.

“I’ll have to speak to the owners and see what they’re thinking. With the mark he has, you’d like to take advantage of it, so if we were going to go down that road, we wouldn’t want to be any higher (in the handicap) than we are and that would frame our whole season.

“We’re just not sure if we’re going to aim for that yet. On Saturday, we didn’t really discuss it, we were just happy for him to have run so well.”

Mahler Mission holds an entry in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown on December 27, but he appears unlikely to line up in that lucrative contest if the National is confirmed as his major target.

“Again, it depends on the route we’re going to take. The Paddy Power itself is a good race with plenty of prize-money on offer, so it is an option,” said McConnell.

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.

“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.”

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.”

Mahler Mission camp upbeat ahead of Coral Gold Cup

John McConnell’s Mahler Mission is reported in fine spirits for the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday and is the current favourite with the sponsors.

The seven-year-old made a pleasing return to action in the Colin Parker earlier in the month, finishing second over a trip bound to be insufficient for a proven stayer.

Crucially, his jumping was sound throughout the race, a reassuring sight after he fell two from home on his final start of last season when leading the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

McConnell reports the gelding to have fared well since his Carlisle run and, all being well, expects him to take up his engagement at Newbury – where he is currently the 7-1 favourite with sponsors Coral.

“He came out of Carlisle fine, we were delighted with the run there and this was always the next step for him,” he said.

“It’s just the final checks we’ve got to do, we’ll run a scope on him and if that’s all OK, then we’ll be there.”

Coral’s David Stevens commented: “This year’s Coral Gold Cup betting remains wide open, although punters have at least found a clear favourite for now, with the Irish raider Mahler Mission now a point shorter than Complete Unknown.”

Mahler Mission given Coral Gold Cup aim

John McConnell is excited about the chances of Mahler Mission in next month’s Coral Gold Cup at Newbury following his promising comeback run at Carlisle on Sunday.

The seven-year-old looked the likely winner of the National Hunt Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival before crashing out two fences from home and he made his first competitive appearance since in the Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase in Cumbria over the weekend.

Running over an inadequate trip of two and a half miles, Mahler Mission set out to make all the running before eventually being reeled in by the classy Thunder Rock, but was 10 lengths clear of the remainder in second and McConnell could not have been happier with the performance in defeat.

He said: “We were really happy, we obviously wanted to get a clear round in after what happened in Cheltenham and he ran a really nice race over a trip that was obviously a little bit on the short side.

“He was beaten by a proper horse of Olly’s (Murphy) and overall we couldn’t be happier with him.

“He kept going to the line and will come on for the run in terms of fitness as well. He jumped really well and we think he’s probably slightly better left-handed as well, so there’s lots of positives.”

With the cobwebs blown away, McConnell is looking forward to stepping him back up in trip for one of the season’s most prestigious handicaps at Newbury on December 2.

He added: “That (Coral Gold Cup) is the plan – left-handed, nice trip for him and at the minute he’s got a nice weight (10st 10lb).

“I would imagine the weights could go up a little bit, but anything under 11st would be a lovely racing weight and it looks an obvious target for him.

“I don’t want to think about it too much as I’d get too excited, but if I was looking from the outside in I would think he’d have a right chance.”

Mahler Mission is one of 41 horses still in contention for the Coral Gold Cup following the latest acceptance stage.

The weights are headed by Lucinda Russell’s Ahoy Senor, who could look to bounce back from a disappointing reappearance in Saturday’s Charlie Hall Chase, but would have to carry 12 stone.

Ahoy Senor was pulled up in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby on Saturday
Ahoy Senor was pulled up in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby on Saturday (David Davies/PA)

The Scottish handler has also left in her Grand National hero Corach Rambler (11st 4lb), who similarly failed to fire on his return to action at Kelso last month.

Dan Skelton’s Protektorat (11st 11lb) and the Venetia Williams-trained Royale Pagaille (11st 5lb) are both still in the mix, while the race sponsors make Jonjo O’Neill’s Monbeg Genius (10st 6lb) their 7-1 favourite despite the fact he was pulled up at Ascot over the weekend.

Coral’s David Stevens said: “Following his defeat at Ascot on Saturday, we eased Monbeg Genius to 10-1 from 6-1 for the Coral Gold Cup, but punters seem willing to overlook that run, and the Cheltenham Festival third has reclaimed his place at the head of the Newbury betting.”

Seddon set to tackle American Grand National

Cheltenham Festival hero Seddon will have the chance to follow in the footsteps of Hewick when he heads to Far Hills for the American Grand National on Saturday.

John McConnell’s stable star is the latest Irish challenger for America’s top jumping prize and the handler is relishing the opportunity to add to the 10-year-olds burgeoning CV in New Jersey.

Seddon has proved a shrewd acquisition for McConnell and owners the Galaxy Horse Racing Syndicate winning four times last season, including providing his handler with a first Cheltenham Festival victory when claiming the Magners Plate before adding to his riches over hurdles at the Punchestown equivalent.

He was last seen being denied by a neck at Galway last month and his trainer believes his versatility could be an asset ahead of his latest big-race assignment.

“It’s exciting and something different,” said McConnell.

“He’s most definitely been a star and a horse of a lifetime for his syndicate, myself and Ben (Harvey, jockey), so anything from here on in is a bonus.

“It was an exciting opportunity to have a go at and hopefully he comes home safe and if he runs his race I will be happy.

“He jumps very well whether it is hurdles and fences so I don’t think that will be a problem and nice ground and the trip will be OK. I suppose it all depends on how he settles in but we’re very hopeful.”

John McConnell with Seddon after his Cheltenham Festival victory
John McConnell with Seddon after his Cheltenham Festival victory (Mike Egerton/PA)

It will also be a big afternoon for jockey Ben Harvey who has struck up a fine partnership with Seddon and will be riding for the first time in America.

“Ben rides him and he’s looking forward to it,” continued McConnell.

“Obviously he has never ridden over there before but he’s a good judge of pace and we wouldn’t have anyone else on him at this stage.”

Raiders from Britain and Ireland have a fine recent record in the Far Hills feature with Hewick using the race as a stepping stone to bigger and better things last year and McConnell has been given plenty of advice from Hewick’s handler John ‘Shark’ Hanlon ahead of Seddon’s cross-Atlantic adventure.

Seddon ridden by jockey Ben Harvey (left) winning at the Punchestown Festival
Seddon ridden by jockey Ben Harvey (left) winning at the Punchestown Festival (Niall Carson/PA)

He added: “Shark paved the way and I’ve had a good chat with him about it.

“He has been very helpful and in fact everybody has been really helpful to us along the way and I just want to get see him get on the track and get it over with now.”

Last season was somewhat a breakthrough year for McConnell who as well as tasting success at all three of the major spring festivals, matched his highest number of winners tally in the UK and almost doubled his previous best on home soil.

Now the Stamullen-based handler believes he has got his best ever National Hunt squad heading into the depths of winter and as well as the familiar names of Seddon, Mahler Mission and Anna Bunina, McConnell has highlighted dual bumper winner Intense Approach as one who could thrive this term.

“They are all coming together nicely,” said McConnell. “Some of the bigger yards are starting to roll out now so that will be challenging and we’ll definitely mix it between the UK and Ireland over the winter.

“We’ve got the best set of jumps horses we have ever had so hopefully that will get us some rewards.

“Intense Approach would probably be the horse to watch, he’s won two bumpers for us in Ireland and he will go hurdling. We really like him and think he is a fairly special horse.

“He’ll start off in a maiden and see after that, but he’s a lovely horse and hopefully we will go to some top places with him.”

American adventure in Seddon’s sights

Seddon will follow in the hoofprints of Hewick when he heads for the American Grand National Hurdle Stakes at Far Hills in October.

Hewick famously landed the two-mile-five-furlong Grade One event with some ease for trainer John ‘Shark’ Hanlon last year and now fellow Irish handler John McConnell looks poised to send dual Cheltenham winner Seddon to the New Jersey track.

Seddon won a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham in October and then after a chase victory at Leopardstown over Christmas, he took the Grade Three Magners Plate Handicap Chase on his return to the Prestbury Park track at the Festival meeting in March.

A fourth successive victory followed over hurdles at the Punchestown Festival in April and McConnell is now prepared to roll the dice Stateside.

He said: “It’s in our heads that the trip and ground will suit him and while it might not top what Hewick did, it will be a nice trip at the very least.

“He’s 10 now and with his rating, he’s either going to be at the top of these big handicaps or in graded races and not winning them, so going to America will be a lovely thing to do.

“Shark paved the way and I don’t know if Willie (Mullins) might line something up over there, after having a bit of success over there this summer. It mightn’t be as easy as it was before, but if he was placed, it would certainly pay for his trip anyway.”

Owned by the Galaxy Horse Racing Syndicate, Seddon has run six times in those colours and connections could be keen to run in staying races on the Flat should opportunities arise.

“We were particular about where we run him and what we run him in and it’s been good, but obviously with his rating it is going to get harder from now on,” said McConnell.

“America will be a great opportunity to have an nice holiday and I’d say we will probably run him on the Flat beforehand.

“There is a two-mile race at Killarney in the middle of August. That’s nice timing. I think he could be a nice horse on the Flat over two miles and that’s another avenue we might explore.

“You never know. He certainly could be a nicely-rated Flat horse over a trip and that is something we might explore further.”

Meanwhile, the County Meath handler is keen to see how far up the ladder hurdler Encanto Bruno can climb.

John McConnell will explore Flat options for Seddon
John McConnell will explore Flat options for Seddon (Mike Egerton/PA)

A winner of a Cheltenham bumper in October, the five-year-old was well held on his return in the Champion Bumper, but made a sparking hurdles debut when coasting to a 13-length success at Bellewstown in July.

McConnell said: “I’m hopeful Encanto Bruno will get there in October or November. He won his maiden hurdle at Bellewstown impressively and we have some other nice horses to come along.

“It’s great to have a really nice bunch of jump horses.

“Obviously we haven’t got the strength and depth of some of the big guys, but we definitely have more strength in depth than we’ve ever had.

“It’s a numbers game and we are trying to improve quality now, but I don’t mind having lower-rated horses as long as they can win.”

Options open for McConnell’s Cheltenham hero Seddon

John McConnell has a multitude of options for Seddon after his Cheltenham Festival success.

The 10-year-old ran a fine race to land the Magners Plate Handicap Chase at 20-1, carrying 5lb claimer Ben Harvey to a one-length victory over Richard Hobson’s Fugitif.

The triumph was a first at the meeting for Meath-based McConnell, who has trained the horse to win three of his five starts since taking over the reins from previous trainer Harry Whittington.

“We were over the moon, he’s done so much for us already and anything else was a bonus and what a bonus it is, to get a winner at the Cheltenham Festival,” said McConnell.

“He’s really well now. He came out of the race fine, we got him home and he’s good, he’s fresh.”

Seddon on his way to Cheltenham Festival glory
Seddon on his way to Cheltenham Festival glory (Tim Goode/PA)

Seddon used to run in the silks of the McNeill family before changing hands last summer, with former owner Max McNeill quick to offer genuine congratulations when the horse triumphed for new connections.

“I’m sure there were mixed emotions, but Max is a pure gentleman and he was very happy for the guys involved and for myself,” said McConnell.

“I’m sure he was a little bit gutted that they weren’t his colours, but that’s understandable and no one expected that rejuvenation.

“Not anyone, not even ourselves, so who’s to know?”

Seddon is likely to run again before the end of the season and there are a handful of paths McConnell could now take, with a return to hurdling not ruled out before his campaign comes to a close.

Seddon with winning connections
Seddon with winning connections (Mike Egerton/PA)

The trainer said: “There are so many options for him, from graded chases to big handicap chases and hurdles as well.

“He probably looks on a nice enough mark over hurdles I suppose, so that might be where we go next with him.

“We’ll let him wind down for a week or two and see, but I’m sure he’ll have a run before the end of the season.”

In the aftermath of his Cheltenham heroics there was praise for Seddon not just as an athlete, but as a character too, and those were sentiments McConnell repeated when saying: “He’s just an angel.

“He’s an angel on the ground to deal with, with the kids he’ll just stand there and get patted and eat his carrots. He just loves being a racehorse as well, you couldn’t ask for a nicer horse.

“If you wanted a perfect racehorse, it’s probably him.”

McConnell backing Mahler Mission to bounce back

John McConnell is looking forward to Mahler Mission’s “day in the sun” after his late fall at the Cheltenham Festival.

The seven-year-old was a well-fancied 13-2 chance for the National Hunt Chase and ran prominently under Johnny Barry before pulling clear of the field four fences from home.

He was travelling along with a four-length lead on his rivals when approaching the second fence from home, an obstacle at which he fell upon landing.

McConnell reports the horse to be well following the tumble, with his Irish Grand National entry now under consideration alongside other staying targets at the latter end of the season.

Mahler Mission during his hurdling career
Mahler Mission during his hurdling career (Tim Goode/PA)

He said: “He was quite stiff after the race. Understandably he was a little bit slow up, but he’ll be fine.

“We’ll just wait until he comes back to himself and then we’ll see. He’s in the Irish National and we’ll probably enter him in a couple of other big chases at the end of the year and we’ll pick one of those.

“He’s a horse that just gives everything, it’s always horrible when they have a fall.

“The main emotion was just relief that he was all right, that was the key thing, then the disappointment came after that.

“He should have a day in the sun in the future.”

Good Time again for Tony Martin at Cheltenham

It was a case of mission complete in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle as Good Time Jonny stormed to Cheltenham Festival success.

Trained to perfection by Tony Martin, he qualified for the big race by finishing third to Maxxum at Leopardstown over Christmas, before tuning-up for his Prestbury Park assignment over an inadequate two miles at the Dublin Racing Festival.

The money had been coming for the eight-year-old building up to the meeting and he was sent off at 9-1 as the tapes went up.

Given a brave steer by Liam McKenna up the inner, Good Time Jonny was out the back as the field headed for home. But his young rider held his nerve to pounce late and deliver his mount with precision, returning a three-and-a-quarter-length winning verdict.

It was a fitting reappearance in the Festival winner’s enclosure for Martin, who has proved synonymous with handicap success in the past and was securing his seventh success at the four-day showpiece.

Martin was full of praise for his rider, saying: “He was last at the top of the hill but had the patience to wait, and it worked out well.

“The horse had been coming on real well since Leopardstown and this is great for Liam.

“When they turned in and started to pick up I knew he would win. Liam never chased him.

“This man has shown when he gets the rub of the green he’s as good as anyone. He hasn’t always enjoyed the breaks you hope for, but when I want to claim I wouldn’t look past him.”

McKenna said: “It’s great for the boys that own him, there’ll be plenty of celebrations from them. They’re great men. It’s great to get these opportunities on a big day like this.

“I got there late enough but that wasn’t my plan, Tony said to get there late and about 10 strides from the line I knew I had it. Just to hear that crowd is different.”

There was further success for the Irish raiders when Seddon gave John McConnell his first Festival winner in the Magners Plate Handicap Chase.

Seddon and Ben Harvey on the way to victory
Seddon and Ben Harvey on the way to victory (Tim Goode/PA)

It was also a first winner at the big meeting for Ben Harvey, who never missed a beat aboard the 10-year-old – bringing him home ahead of Richard Hobson’s Fugitif to strike at 20-1.

McConnell said: “I don’t know what to say. He’s the horse of a lifetime. Top jockey, top worker rider, I don’t do anything. I’m just a chancer, that’s all I am. He’s some horse, and the most beautiful, kindest horse you can ever imagine as well.

“He’s just a happy horse. He loves being a racehorse, people talk about welfare and this is a horse that just loves being a racehorse. He would lay down for you, he’s an amazing horse. With Ben on board it was like robbing 5lb, it’s unbelievable.”

Sam Curling’s Angels Dawn ensured a clean sweep of the St Patrick’s Thursday handicaps went to Ireland when holding off Stumptown to claim the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase by a neck.

Angels Dawn and P A King coming home to win the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase on day three of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse
Angels Dawn and P A King coming home to win the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase on day three of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse (David Davies for The Jockey Club/PA)

The eight-year-old unseated her rider when sent off favourite for Punchestown’s Grand National Trial last month, but bounced back in style here, travelling with real menace in the hands of Patrick King and showing plenty of guts when challenged by Gavin Cromwell’s 7-2 favourite in the closing stages.

Curling said: “That was brilliant – I’m delighted.

“She was unlucky the last day in Punchestown and she’s always promised a lot. 

“We’re only a small team and only have about six horses for the track. We have maybe 70 point-to-pointers and mainly buy and sell horses. We sold Marine Nationale, so it was special to see him here earlier in the week. That’s our game. 

“This mare jumps well and loves the bit of extra distance and Pat gave her a very cool ride. 

“When the rain came I was very hopeful. If she’d won the last day she would have gone up in the weights, so maybe it was a blessing in disguise. 

“She’s in the Irish National, but she probably wouldn’t get into that. I hadn’t really looked beyond today, to be honest.”

King said: “It’s unbelievable, I didn’t think I’d ever have this feeling, it’s surreal, it’s my first ride at the Festival. I’ve had a winner at the October meeting but to ride this for Sam, who has been a big part of my career, I’m delighted.

“I was nearly at the end of riding as things had gone very quiet for me but I joined Sam and since then I’m back, he’s been a big part.

“I’ve known Sam a long time and he told me if I joined him there’d be chances for him and I’ve never looked back.

“I was in front far too soon, I wasn’t supposed to be in front before the last but I thought from a long way out I was going very well and thankfully it worked out.”

John McConnell readying strong Cheltenham team

Autumn course winners Encanto Bruno and Fennor Cross are set to be part of John McConnell’s team for next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

Encanto Bruno, a £210,000 purchase after winning his sole start in the point-to-point field, made a winning debut under Rules at Cork in July before powering up the Cheltenham hill in October.

The form of the latter event could hardly have worked out better with the runner-up Strong Leader winning each of his three starts over hurdles, while Encanto Bruno has enjoyed a mid-season break.

The five-year-old is a 20-1 shot for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Prestbury Park and is reported to be firmly on course for that Grade One assignment.

“He got a break after Cheltenham and is back in full flow now, so the plan is to go straight to Cheltenham with him,” said McConnell.

“It was a good bumper he won and hopefully he’s developed a bit more physically since and we can get more out of him.

“The Simon Munir and Isaac Souede horse that won in Navan (It’s For Me) is probably the standout in the Champion Bumper, but we can only turn up and see how our horse does.

“Certainly the form of his race is solid, he’s won at the track and he’s a laid back character, so we’re very happy to have a go at it.”

Fennor Cross won a maiden hurdle at Cheltenham in October and returned to the track to claim a Grade Two prize at the November meeting.

Fennor Cross in action at Cheltenham
Fennor Cross in action at Cheltenham (Tim Goode/PA)

He too has been kept fresh for a spring campaign, with McConnell adding: “He goes straight to the Festival as well. I’m not sure what race he’ll run in yet, it could be the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or it could be the Martin Pipe. He’ll get an entry in both and we’ll see.”

Another likely Festival contender for the County Meath handler is the resurgent Seddon, who won over hurdles at Cheltenham in October before bolting up over fences at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.

McConnell said: “He’s gone up a lot in the weights, but he was entitled to I suppose.

“He’ll be entered in the Coral Cup and the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase (Festival Plate) and we’ll have a look at both races nearer the time and decide then which way we go.”

The trainer confirmed Anna Bunina will head for either the County Hurdle or the Coral Cup after finishing fourth behind Gaelic Warrior at last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival, while he has a couple of potential runners in the Triumph Hurdle.

Jackpot de Choisel won by 32 lengths on his second start over obstacles at Ayr last week, while multiple French Flat winner Hypotenus has not even run over hurdles or made his debut for McConnell yet, but he is considered an exciting prospect.

“Jackpot De Choisel will have another run and we’ll see then. He’ll be qualified for the Boodles as well as the Triumph Hurdle and we’ll have a better idea of where we’re going after his next run,” the trainer added.

“Hypotenus will probably run in a Grade Three in Fairyhouse in a couple of weeks and we’ll see how he gets on. He’s a big horse and he’ll be a lovely horse to have as a novice for next season, so we’re in no big rush with him, but if he ran very well in Fairyhouse we might be tempted to go for the Triumph.”

McConnell mapping Cheltenham Mission for Mahler

John McConnell’s Mahler Mission has the Cheltenham Festival in his sights after an impressive Navan success.

The seven-year-old was a high-quality hurdler and made the transition to chasing this season, starting off at Cheltenham before finishing third in a Punchestown contest on New Year’s Eve.

At Navan on Saturday he lined up for a three-mile beginners’ chase and demonstrated his potential when jumping fluently and sauntering to an unchallenged 10-length victory under Ben Harvey.

“We were delighted but we weren’t surprised. We thought he’d come forward from his run at Punchestown last time and we rode him a bit more confidently this time and it paid off,” said McConnell.

“I suppose it was only a beginners’ chase at the end of the day, so we can’t get too excited or carried away, but it was a good performance.

“He jumped very well, he picked up from the back of the third last and he won well. He didn’t have a hard race and we were really happy with him.”

The National Hunt Chase, a three-mile-six-furlong affair at the Cheltenham Festival in March, is the likely target now, with McConnell undecided as to whether the gelding will have another outing in the meantime.

“I would say we’ll go for the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, I think he’s entitled to go,” he said.

“I don’t know what mark he’s got yet in the UK, but I’m sure it’ll be high enough. Whether he’ll have a run beforehand, I’m not sure, I’d say that’s it’s probably less than a 50 per cent chance.

“He stays very well, the trip won’t be an issue at all. He jumps well, he’s jumped around Cheltenham before so that box is ticked there. He could go for a Grade Two in a couple of weeks here but we’ll see, we’ll bask in the victory a bit longer!”