John McConnell is planning a twin assault on the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, with Bardenstown Lad set to be joined by stablemate Mahler Mission.
A winner over three miles at Cheltenham in October, Bardenstown Lad made a successful return from a winter break with an impressive display in the Scottish Stayers’ Hurdle at Musselburgh last weekend.
Mahler Mission, meanwhile, won the Grade Two River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster last month.
McConnell considers both horses realistic contenders for the Albert Bartlett and is happy to let them do battle at the Festival.
He said: “We were delighted with Bardenstown Lad the other day. It was exactly what we wanted as we didn’t want him to have an overly-hard race.
“He was on the go last summer, so we gave him a break with one eye on the Albert Bartlett and brought him back for a prep run.
“We got a nice schooling session into him and Gordon Elliott’s horse that finished second (Where It All Began) is probably not a bad horse either.
“It was a good performance and I don’t think we’ve got to the bottom of him yet – that’s the exciting thing about him.”
Of Mahler Mission, he added: “He’ll go straight for the Albert Bartlett, too. He had a bit of a break and is back in cantering away.
“It’s nice to be going there with two horses that deserve to be there.”
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John McConnell is looking forward to taking Mahler Mission straight to Cheltenham for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle following his victory at Doncaster on Saturday.
The six-year-old earned quotes as low as 20-1 for the three-mile test at the Festival after he backed up his first success at Sedgefield two weeks earlier with a Grade Two-winning display in the River Don Novices’ Hurdle on Town Moor.
McConnell is happy with the way Mahler Mission has taken those exertions in beating The Real Whacker by two lengths over an extended three miles but does not want to go to the well again before Cheltenham.
“He came out of it fine. He’s a very tough horse and there’s not a bother on him. It was a good performance. We were thrilled. He ground it out well,” said the County Meath handler.
“He’ll go straight for Cheltenham. He’s had two trips in the last couple of weeks and three runs in five weeks. He’ll go straight for the Albert Bartlett.”
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Mahler Mission was yet another Irish-trained winner of a big race in Britain when staying on dourly to claim the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster.
Just 24 hours on from the feature race having gone across the Irish Sea from Town Moor on Friday, and on the same day as Gordon Elliott’s Pied Piper dazzled at Cheltenham, British-based trainers look set to face yet another stiff task come the festivals in the spring.
Mahler Mission (11-2) had actually already won in the UK, at Sedgefield last time out, and trainer John McConnell is no stranger to raids from his County Meath base.
It was a good battle up the straight with Ann Duffield’s The Real Whacker, but experience told close home and Mahler Mission won by two lengths.
“He just gallops and gallops and is improving all the time,” said McConnell.
“He’s not even six until June so he’s still a baby. I bought him because I thought he was eyecatching in a point-to-point and I’ve been proven right.
“He goes on all ground. He looks slow, but I don’t think he’s as slow as people think!
“I put him in the Albert Bartlett this week so I thought I’d better run him to see where he was. He might not be good enough to win it, but he deserves to run in it.”
Paddy Power cut the winner to 33-1 from 66s for the Cheltenham race.
Imperial Cup runner-up Miss Heritage returned to her best form to run out an impressive winner of the Sky Bet Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle.
Trained by Lucy Wadham, who also looks after another smart mare in Martello Sky, she had been running consistently well in handicaps this season without success.
Ridden regularly by Bryony Frost, she was required by her boss Paul Nicholls on this occasion for the hot favourite Miranda.
Instead, Sean Quinlan came in for the ride, having also picked up a spare winning mount on Lady Buttons two years ago, and in truth he probably never at any stage thought he was not going to win.
While Frost took the bull by the horns on Miranda early in the straight, she was not going anywhere near as well as Miss Heritage in her bid for back-to-back wins and had no answer as Quinlan breezed on by to win by 15 lengths.
“She so deserves it as she’s so consistent and has been running really well in handicaps, but she’s been anchored by her weight,” said Wadham.
“We do have form with Miranda, we’ve beaten her before, but on her Imperial Cup form you’d have to give her a chance.
“That was on very different ground, but she does have form on good ground in her younger days. We just thought with only five runners in a big race it was worth a go – we weren’t expecting her to quite do that!
“I think this will be her last season, there’s not much more she can do.”
Hard To Forgot ended up running out a convincing winner of the Sky Bet Extra Places Every Day Handicap Chase – but nearly all the runners still had a chance turning into the straight.
Then Cillian Leonard’s stirrup leather snapped and he was unseated on the flat and the race soon changed complexion.
Henry Oliver’s Hard To Forget and Tide Times pulled clear, but Hard To Forget ended up winning by six and a half lengths from the staying-on Speak Of The Devil.
“There was a lot going on and I was having to dodge horses left right and centre,” said winning jockey James Davies.
“My lad had probably dropped to a realistic mark and he was entitled to go close.”
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