Tag Archive for: National Hunt Chase

National Hunt Chase promises poignant result for Mullins family

There could be emotional scenes at Cheltenham if Embassy Gardens were to prevail in the Maureen Mullins National Hunt Chase.

The race is named in honour of the matriarch of the great Irish racing family, who died last month at the age of 94 and whose son Willie trains Embassy Gardens – the mount of grandson Patrick on the opening day of the Festival.

Stattler and Gaillard Du Mesnil have provided the duo with victory in the last two years, while the younger Mullins is the race’s most successful jockey, having first landed the spoils with Back In Focus in 2013 and also scoring aboard Rathvinden six years ago.

This year’s contender was pulled up on his previous visit to Prestbury Park in last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, but has thrived since switching to fences this term, winning impressively the last twice.

Jockey Patrick Mullins kisses his late grandmother Maureen Mullins
Jockey Patrick Mullins kisses his late grandmother Maureen Mullins (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

However, there is a big threat lurking from within the Mullins family, with Emmet Mullins’ Corbetts Cross another Irish raider predicted to play a leading part.

“It was very kind of Cheltenham to name the National Hunt Chase after granny and I think Embassy Gardens is going to have a huge chance,” said Patrick Mullins.

“However, I think my cousin Emmet might have the edge with Corbetts Cross – his form looks that bit stronger, but I guess his prep has not been ideal.

Embassy Gardens at home at Closutton
Embassy Gardens at home at Closutton (Niall Carson/PA)

“Hopefully one of us can do it, but I would prefer it if it was me.

“It is a lucky race for us and Jamie Codd has 10 Cheltenham winners, I have eight, so I need another three before I retire to try to pass him. I need to put them away if I can.”

It could be an extra-special week in the Cotswolds for the Mullins family, with the master of Closutton just six away from becoming the first trainer to reach three figures at the Festival.

Patrick Mullins is keen to pay tribute not only to his father but also his grandparents, who provided the template for the all-conquering dynasty that dominates today.

Patrick Mullins with his father Willie Mullins and his mother Jackie Mullins
Patrick Mullins with his father Willie Mullins and his mother Jackie Mullins (Brian Lawless/PA)

“It’s an incredible landmark and I suppose the expanded Festival is what makes numbers like that possible. But for him to be the first trainer to get to it (100 winners) would be very special,” he added.

“We’re very lucky and we obviously lost my grandmother Maureen recently and herself and grandad built the foundations going back to Dawn Run, and even further back Vulpine and Counsel Cottage. There’s a lot of history and lots to be proud of.”

Since his first Festival triumph with Tourist Attraction in 1995, Willie Mullins has unleashed an array of top equine talent on the Cotswolds and has walked away with the leading trainer award 10 times in the last 13 years.

Hurricane Fly regained his Champion Hurdle crown in 2013
Hurricane Fly regained his Champion Hurdle crown in 2013 (David Davies/PA)

And although it is a difficult task to pick a highlight, his son feels the day Hurricane Fly regained his Champion Hurdle crown in 2013 may be the greatest of all his father’s accomplishments at the Festival.

He added: “The one that stands out for me is Hurricane Fly regaining his Champion Hurdle. He missed the Supreme and first Champion Hurdle through injury, then he won it.

“When he lost it the following year, he had a bit of an interrupted season, and for him to come back and reclaim the top hurdling crown was a great sense of vindication for a horse of that quality.”

Maureen Mullins honoured in National Hunt Chase

This year’s National Hunt Chase will be run in honour of the late Maureen Mullins on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Mullins, who died aged 94 on February 14, was the matriarch of one of the most successful and well-known families in the sport.

A winning rider, owner and breeder in her own right, she was the wife of Paddy, the trainer of the great Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup-winning mare Dawn Run.

The couple had five children, among them trainers Tom, Tony and Willie – the latter now Ireland’s leading National Hunt handler and a huge presence at the Cheltenham Festival.

Her grandsons Danny, Emmet and Patrick have all ridden winners at the Festival, with Patrick taking first place in the National Hunt Chase four times for his father Willie, making him the contest’s leading jockey.

The Jockey Club’s Ian Renton said: “The National Hunt Chase has a long tradition of commemorating some of Jump racing’s most famous names and we are delighted that the Mullins family has agreed to have the historic contest run in honour of Maureen Mullins in 2024.

“A true stalwart of Jump racing, Maureen Mullins was a regular visitor to the Festival and her sad passing last month leaves a big void. We hope that putting her name to the National Hunt Chase celebrates her tremendous legacy in the appropriate way.”

Willie Mullins said: “Our family are delighted and honoured to have a race named after our mother Maureen, who had a great affinity for Cheltenham and enjoyed every moment there.”

Tony Mullins added: “Undoubtedly the correct race for a great stayer.”

Churchstonewarrior primed for Cheltenham test

Churchstonewarrior will head into the unknown when he runs in the Wellchild National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham on Tuesday.

The lightly-raced eight-year-old, who has had just four starts over fences, was runner-up to Gaillard Du Mesnil in a three-mile Grade One at Leopardstown over Christmas before going one better in the Grade Two Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan last month.

Jonathan Sweeney’s stable star is poised to take on the Willie Mullins-trained Gaillard Du Mesnil once more at the Festival, with connections hoping to find improvement over three miles and six furlongs after being beaten seven and a half lengths in their last meeting.

“I was very happy with his last run, couldn’t be happier. I’m looking forward to going now,” said Sweeney.

“The form of his race at Navan looks good. Three-mile-six is an unknown, but you’d imagine he’s the type of a horse who will handle that sort of distance.

“He jumped a little right on occasion last time, but I don’t think that will be an issue.”

Though his last run was his sole success over fences to date, Churchstonewarrior has not yet finished outside the first two and is a general 6-1 chance to claim Festival glory, with amateur rider James Hannon taking over in the saddle from Aidan Coleman.

“You would just be hoping the ground was safe. I’d have thought there would be a better chance (of softer ground) on the first day,” Sweeney added.

“You would not be confident – not at Cheltenham – you’d be just hoping for things to go right and that he’ll run his race.”

Churchstonewarrior also holds an entry in the Boylesports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on April 10.

Sweeney said: “He is entered in the Irish National but we will take it one day at a time. If we get to Cheltenham, we’ll have to see how things go and how we come out of it.”

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!”

Race Histories 5: The National Hunt Chase

Now here’s a conundrum for you. We’ve just seen the 4 mile National Hunt Chase (I’ll just use it’s regular title here), a race in it’s 153rd year. Yet National Hunt racing has only regularly taken place at Cheltenham since the early 1900s, with the festival established in 1911. So what about the early years of the race? Read more