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The Shunter still thriving as Manifesto test awaits

The Shunter continues to thrive and surprise trainer Emmet Mullins as he nears his next big-race assignment at Aintree.

The prolific eight-year-old steps into Grade One company in Thursday’s SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase, having already landed a huge pot for connections in last month’s Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Shunter bagged a £100,000 bonus with that victory, which came after he had put himself in line for it when taking Kelso’s Morebattle Hurdle 12 days earlier.

He had already won a big prize at Cheltenham in November, in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, after moving to Mullins’ County Carlow yard last summer from previous trainer John Clifford.

As The Shunter prepares for his next major challenge in Britain, Mullins reports him to be taking his exertions remarkably well.

“Yes, you wouldn’t know at home (he’s been so busy),” he said.

“He’s thriving at the moment – he looks in great order, and heavier than he did going to Kelso before the journey started.”

The Shunter has proved hugely adaptable as well as durable – winning over both hurdles and fences, at trips varying between two miles and two miles and five furlongs and on both soft and good ground.

“We haven’t come across anything like him (before) – nor did we think (to start with) he was as good as he is,” added Mullins.

The Shunter and Jordan Gainford clear the last at Cheltenham
The Shunter and Jordan Gainford clear the last at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“He just keeps improving. I would argue his most impressive performance was his last run at Cheltenham.

“Hurdles or fences – either is not too much of an issue. Arguably he could be a bit better over hurdles.

“But I’d say his ideal conditions are two and half miles on nice ground – and after that hurdles or fences, we don’t really mind.

“He just seems to be in such a rich vein of form.”

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The Shunter has improved three stones in nine months for Mullins, and must therefore venture out of handicap company to take on a field of Britain’s top novices.

Mullins added: “He doesn’t show a whole lot at home – and he doesn’t actually do a whole lot of work at home.

“So, I’m only seeing what everyone else is seeing on the track – and I’m happy enough to do that.

“I’m not going to force his hand at home. If he doesn’t want to show it to me, that’s OK.

“I can wait like everyone else to see him (do it on the track). Once he keeps winning, I’m happy.

“We’ve got our big handicap pots out of him – and he’s kind of gone up too far up in the handicap to be flying that route (any more).

“He keeps surprising us. Our handicap mark says we should be there – we’re probably stretching a bit going straight into Grade One company.

“But he owes us nothing – and whatever he can do is a bonus from here.”

Nicky Henderson is expecting a big run out of Fusil Raffles
Nicky Henderson is expecting a big run out of Fusil Raffles (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Leading the home defence against The Shunter is the Nicky Henderson-trained Fusil Raffles, second to stablemate Chantry House in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Henderson said: “This is his trip, I’m pretty sure.

“He ran a great race at Cheltenham. Envoi Allen helped us a fair bit by declining to come round all the way, and did leave the door open, but you’ve got to be there to take your chance when you’re offered it.

“Chantry House beat Fusil Raffles, but ‘Fusil’ is very good in his own right – and over two and a half, this is the place for him.”

Paul Nicholls is equally hopeful about the chance of Hitman, who arrives on Merseyside a fresh horse after missing Cheltenham.

The Ditcheat trainer said in his Betfair blog: “He’s a proper young chaser who was still travelling strongly when he came down in the Grade One Scilly Isles at Sandown and then enjoyed a nice, confidence-boosting victory at Newbury early in March.

“As he’s only just five and lacks experience, we decided to bypass Cheltenham and wait for this race over a trip of two and a half miles – which is ideal.”

Umbrigado (left) gets up on the line at Newbury
Umbrigado (left) gets up on the line at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The David Pipe-trained Umbrigado has won the last three of his four outings over fences, most recently the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury.

Pipe said: “He was very good the last day at Newbury – and although this will be different, with a small but select field, the track and trip should suit him, and he definitely deserves to go there.

“He ran well the time before last at Wetherby and he showed that he stays two and a half miles last time at Newbury on better ground. He seems to be much better over a fence.

“We decided not to go to Cheltenham with him, because it was close enough after Newbury. His owners (John White and Anne Underhill) have had great success at both Cheltenham and Aintree, but we opted for Aintree because he ran well enough there before.

“He has always been a horse we thought a lot of, and the last two performances have demonstrated that. He is going to have to improve again, but he seems to be on an upward curve.”

Adagio has been a star for David Pipe this season
Adagio has been a star for David Pipe this season (David Davies/PA)

Pipe also has a leading contender for Grade One honours in the shape of Triumph Hurdle runner-up Adagio.

Already a winner at the top level in Chepstow’s Finale Hurdle, the four-year-old proved best of the British runners in the juvenile championship – and faces five rivals in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle.

Pipe said: “He was perhaps a little bit of a forgotten horse in the Triumph, but he ran an absolute cracker.

“He has won around Cheltenham, and a quick track like Warwick, so I think he is versatile regarding ground and track.

“I wasn’t sure at the start whether he would be good enough to be up to Triumph Hurdle standard, but he has proved me wrong by the performances at Chepstow and at Cheltenham.”

The one to beat, however, could be Monmiral – who like Hitman did not run at Cheltenham.

Monmiral has been saved for Aintree
Monmiral has been saved for Aintree (David Davies/PA)

The French import is unbeaten in three starts for Nicholls, who said: “He’s a good example of my belief that everything in the season shouldn’t revolve around Cheltenham. We don’t buy and train horses just for the Festival.

“We don’t have to take horses there – we were not tempted by the Triumph Hurdle, and it was always the plan that Monmiral would head instead to Aintree after he won impressively on both starts for us.

“The form of his latest success at Haydock has been well and truly franked by the second and the third. While he has only ever raced on soft ground, I feel that good to soft on Thursday will be fine for him.”

Mount Ida scales seemingly impossible heights at Cheltenham

Mount Ida put up an amazing performance to come from last to first and claim the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Leading two out in the hands of Jack Kennedy, the 3-1 favourite gradually went clear to give Denise Foster a second Festival winner after taking over the licence at Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra House Stables.

Touching 999-1 in-running on the exchanges, Mount Ida was almost detached from the rest of the field in the early stages of the three-and-a-quarter-mile stamina test, but she got going on the final circuit.

She made stealthy progress and was cantering turning for home. Kennedy made sure she finished off the job and his mount did it in style to win by six and a half lengths from Cloudy Glen. Shantou Flyer was three-quarters of a length away in third. Hold The Note was a further 13 lengths back in fourth.

Rachael Blackmore came down on Plan Of Attack at the third-last fence when holding every chance.

Kennedy – who suffered heartbreak in the opening race of the day when Envoi Allen fell – said: “I was lucky they were going quick, she was doing her best work at the finish.

“We thought she’d stay, but I’d planned it going a bit smoother in the early part. I just had to make do what I could from there, luckily I had a very willing partner.

“We were hoping she’d run a big race, we thought she might be thereabouts if things went smoothly, but I thought my chances were out of the window after four fences.

“At the top of the hill I was fairly happy and I ended up getting there too soon.

“It was a massive thrill, especially after the day I’d had, probably one of the most satisfactory winners I’ve had.”

The Shunter won a £100,000 bonus for his connections when beating 20 rivals in the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase.

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The Emmet Mullins-trained eight-year-old scooped the windfall with a convincing display in the competitive two-and-a-half-mile affair.

Mullins selected this race from five engagements for The Shunter, who qualified for a crack at the money after landing the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso.

The County Carlow handler put faith in 7lb claimer Jordan Gainford to do the steering and he showed no pressure as he guided the well-backed 9-4 favourite to victory.

Gainford had The Shunter with the leaders throughout before he went for glory at the second-last fence. He kept on strongly up the hill to win by three lengths from Farclas. Top Notch was three and a quarter lengths back in third, with Coole Cody a head away in fourth.

Gainford said: “It’s unbelievable, something you can’t describe and it’s a feeling I’ve never had before.

“Emmet said to jump off smart and if they weren’t going hard enough to be positive but we shouldn’t have that problem.

“He thought the step up in trip would suit. He tends to do his own little thing so going to the last I let him pop then he battled hard from the last.

“I spoke to Davy Russell through the week and he filled me with confidence and I must thank Barry O’Neill (champion amateur jockey) and Colin Bowe (leading point-to-point trainer).

“I didn’t know I’d got the ride until declaration time so I owe my agent Gary Cribbin a lot. I’m 20 and ride for Colin three days a week and at Cullentra House three times a week.”

Mullins said: “It is probably no great reflection on me, but at the time I thought he had to go for a beginners’ chase at Punchestown in September. To go from there, via the Greatwood and Kelso, it’s been an unbelievable journey.

“We booked Jordan because he’s catching everyone’s attention, the owner was fairly insistent on claiming 7lb and at that Jordan was the only option. He showed why today.

“We went to Kelso as I thought it would be easier on the horse than the County Hurdle here, and Kelso was a huge pot in its own right.

“We got that one right and it’s just fallen into place since. You wouldn’t know how far he could go, what we see on the track is as wise as I can be, he doesn’t set the world alight at home but we don’t ask him to do much, the less the better.

“I wouldn’t know what’s next, we haven’t thought beyond this, but I’m sure his owner will pull another rabbit out of the hat.”

Mrs Milner was another for Ireland in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.

The six-year-old, trained in County Wexford by Paul Nolan, asserted on the run to the line to land the three-mile stamina test in comfortable fashion.

Redford Road and Potters Hedger were the pace-setters and there were plenty in with chances as the big field approached the penultimate flight.

Mrs Milner was produced through the pack to lead before the last. Despite the attentions of a loose horse, the 12-1 chance kept on strongly to win by five lengths from The Bosses Oscar.

Come On Teddy was half a length back in third, with another length and a half to Milliner in fourth.

Nolan said: “That was brilliant – I can’t believe the ease with which she’s done it.

“She got into a bit of bother at a few different stages of the race. It wasn’t Bryan’s fault, it was just the way things panned out. I was saying a few swear words here I can tell you!

“It was unbelievable the way she ran up the hill. I can’t believe it, to be honest.”

He went on: “She is such a tough little mare. After the fall she had in Leopardstown the last day, a lot of horses would have their head down for a week, but she just bounced straight back.

“We ran her over the wrong trip the last day, but we decided to go that way to keep her against the mares. As it’s turned out it’s probably worked out well as she might have ended up with a few more pounds on her back if she’d run in the longer race and run well.”

Nolan, saddling his first Festival winner since Noble Prince landed the inaugural running of what is now the Marsh Novices’ Chase in 2011, decided against crossing the Irish Sea this year with his solitary runner.

He added: “It’s disappointing not to be there, but it sounds like you can’t do much anyway and we’ll enjoy it the best we can from home.

“We were jumping up and down here watching the race and nearly went through the skylight!

“We’ve had a few placed horses and things since Noble Prince won. We’re lucky to have some very good owners, who are keeping us afloat.”

The Shunter bags £100,000 bonus with Cheltenham strike

The Shunter won a £100,000 bonus for his connections when beating 20 rivals in the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Emmet Mullins-trained eight-year-old scooped the windfall with a convincing display in the competitive two-and-a-half-mile affair.

Mullins selected this race from five engagements for The Shunter, who qualified for a crack at the money after landing the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso.

The County Carlow handler put faith in 7lb claimer Jordan Gainford to do the steering and he showed no pressure as he guided the well-backed 9-4 favourite to victory.

Gainford had The Shunter with the leaders throughout before he went for glory at the second-last fence. He kept on strongly up the hill to win by three lengths from Farclas. Top Notch was three and a quarter lengths back in third, with Coole Cody a head away in fourth.

Gainford said: “It’s unbelievable, something you can’t describe and it’s a feeling I’ve never had before.

“Emmet said to jump off smart and if they weren’t going hard enough to be positive but we shouldn’t have that problem.

“He thought the step up in trip would suit. He tends to do his own little thing so going to the last I let him pop then he battled hard from the last.

“I spoke to Davy Russell through the week and he filled me with confidence and I must thank Barry O’Neill (champion amateur jockey) and Colin Bowe (leading point-to-point trainer).

“I didn’t know I’d got the ride until declaration time so I owe my agent Gary Cribbin a lot. I’m 20 and ride for Colin three days a week and at Cullentra House three times a week.”

Mullins said: “It is probably no great reflection on me, but at the time I thought he had to go for a beginners’ chase at Punchestown in September. To go from there, via the Greatwood and Kelso, it’s been an unbelievable journey.

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“We booked Jordan because he’s catching everyone’s attention, the owner was fairly insistent on claiming 7lb and at that Jordan was the only option. He showed why today.

“We went to Kelso as I thought it would be easier on the horse than the County Hurdle here, and Kelso was a huge pot in its own right.

“We got that one right and it’s just fallen into place since. You wouldn’t know how far he could go, what we see on the track is as wise as I can be, he doesn’t set the world alight at home but we don’t ask him to do much, the less the better.

“I wouldn’t know what’s next, we haven’t thought beyond this, but I’m sure his owner will pull another rabbit out of the hat.”

Mrs Milner was another for Ireland in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.

The six-year-old, trained in County Wexford by Paul Nolan, asserted on the run to the line to land the three-mile stamina test in comfortable fashion.

Redford Road and Potters Hedger were the pace-setters and there were plenty in with chances as the big field approached the penultimate flight.

Mrs Milner was produced through the pack to lead before the last. Despite the attentions of a loose horse, the 12-1 chance kept on strongly to win by five lengths from The Bosses Oscar.

Come On Teddy was half a length back in third, with another length and a half to Milliner in fourth.

Nolan said: “That was brilliant – I can’t believe the ease with which she’s done it.

“She got into a bit of bother at a few different stages of the race. It wasn’t Bryan’s fault, it was just the way things panned out. I was saying a few swear words here I can tell you!

“It was unbelievable the way she ran up the hill. I can’t believe it, to be honest.”

He went on: “She is such a tough little mare. After the fall she had in Leopardstown the last day, a lot of horses would have their head down for a week, but she just bounced straight back.

“We ran her over the wrong trip the last day, but we decided to go that way to keep her against the mares. As it’s turned out it’s probably worked out well as she might have ended up with a few more pounds on her back if she’d run in the longer race and run well.”

Nolan, saddling his first Festival winner since Noble Prince landed the inaugural running of what is now the Marsh Novices’ Chase in 2011, decided against crossing the Irish Sea this year with his solitary runner.

He added: “It’s disappointing not to be there, but it sounds like you can’t do much anyway and we’ll enjoy it the best we can from home.

“We were jumping up and down here watching the race and nearly went through the skylight!

“We’ve had a few placed horses and things since Noble Prince won. We’re lucky to have some very good owners, who are keeping us afloat.”

Mount Ida – another for Ireland – put up an amazing performance to come from last to first and claim the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.

Leading two out in the hands of Jack Kennedy, the 3-1 favourite gradually went clear to give Denise Foster a second Festival winner after taking over the licence at Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra House Stables.

Mount Ida was almost detached from the rest of the field in the early stages of the three-and-a-quarter-mile stamina test, but she got going on the final circuit.

She made stealthy progress and was cantering turning for home. Kennedy made sure she finished off the job and his mount did it in style to win by six and a half lengths from Cloudy Glen. Shantou Flyer was three-quarters of a length away in third. Hold The Note was a further 13 lengths back in fourth.

Rachael Blackmore came down on Plan Of Attack at the third-last fence when holding every chance.

Kennedy – who suffered heartbreak in the opening race of the day when Envoi Allen fell – said: “I was lucky they were going quick, she was doing her best work at the finish.

“We thought she’d stay, but I’d planned it going a bit smoother in the early part. I just had to make do what I could from there, luckily I had a very willing partner.

“We were hoping she’d run a big race, we thought she might be thereabouts if things went smoothly, but I thought my chances were out of the window after four fences.

“At the top of the hill I was fairly happy and I ended up getting there too soon.

“It was a massive thrill, especially after the day I’d had, probably one of the most satisfactory winners I’ve had.”

Mullins to make late decision on Festival assignment for The Shunter

The Shunter’s Cheltenham Festival target will be a last-minute call as his connections eye the prospect of a £100,000 bonus up for grabs.

Emmet Mullins’ charge has several options over hurdles and fences next week, and could not be arriving in better form.

He won the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso on Saturday, a valuable race in its own right – but the extra incentive offered by the Kelso executives mean Mullins is taking more time than most to decide on the right race next.

“Everything we ask him to do he keeps coming up trumps,” the County Carlow trainer said of his Greatwood Hurdle winner.

“He has just been a revelation. He has improved far and beyond what we expected. I really can’t put my finger on what it is.

“The Morebattle is a great race to win in its own right, but the bonus on offer to him is great – and hopefully we can give it a bit of a rattle.

“He has got the five entries, but I couldn’t tell you what discipline he is going to run in, let alone which race.

“We will wait as long as we can before deciding and keep a close check on the forecast. I could have a favoured race for him today, then it flip tomorrow.

Cape Gentleman (red/black) is unlikely to run at Cheltenham
Cape Gentleman (red/black) is unlikely to run at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“There will be a few deciding factors, and we will bounce ideas off a few people then make a decision.”

Mullins’ Cape Gentleman, a game winner of the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton, is less likely to make the journey, though.

“Everything suited him at Kempton,” he said.

“The good ground and going right-handed probably did him no harm as well.

“Jonjo (O’Neill junior) said he was very straightforward on the day. He is exciting, and it is good to get him back on track.

“He is probably unlikely to go to Cheltenham, though you never say never. I’d say it’s 70-30 that he doesn’t go. I’d imagine he will go to Fairyhouse next, because it gives us a couple of weeks longer, then on to Punchestown.”

Chatham Street Lad headlines Fairyhouse entries

Cheltenham heroes Chatham Street Lad and The Shunter could lock horns in the Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday.

The Mick Winters-trained trained Chatham Street Lad was a brilliant winner of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Prestbury Park last month, while The Shunter won the Greatwood Hurdle in November for Emmet Mullins.

The pair are among 25 remaining contenders for this weekend’s 75,000 euros contest, with Joseph O’Brien’s Front View and Impact Factor from Jessica Harrington’s yard potentially bidding to follow up recent course wins.

Gordon Elliott has left in six horses, including Chosen Mate, winner of the Grand Annual at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, while Willie Mullins has both Fan De Blues and Pont Aven.

Noel Meade’s Daly Tiger made an impressive start to the current campaign at Punchestown in November, but disappointed at Fairyhouse on his latest appearance.

Meade said: “Daly Tiger may run in the Dan Moore at Fairyhouse on Saturday. We’ll see how things progress this week.

“I don’t know why he ran so poorly the last day. Nothing went right for him and we’ll just have to put a line through it.”

Also featuring on Saturday’s card is the ITM Virtual Stallion Trail Hurdle, for which Gordon Elliott has entered Quilixios.

An impressive winner at both Punchestown and Down Royal, he tops a bumper entry of 17 along with the Willie Mullins-trained Youmdor.

The Shunter swoops for Greatwood glory

The Shunter flew up the Cheltenham hill to run out an impressive winner of the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle.

Racing from the bottom of the handicap, he relished the testing conditions as he quickened past top weight Ballyandy after the last.

Ridden confidently by Robbie Power, partnering his fourth winner of the Open meeting, it was a notable success for trainer Emmett Mullins.

As ever there were plenty in with a chance approaching the last, but Ballyandy still held sway despite his welter burden, and he did well to hold off the favourite Tegerek for second. Hunters Call was fourth.

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The Shunter (13-2) only had a maiden hurdle win to his name over the smaller obstacles previously, but did triumph over fences at Punchestown in September.

Power said: “I’d say it’s the lightest I’ve done for 10 years. Emmet fancied him and the rain came. He is more of a two-and-a-half miler, but the rain came and it brought his stamina into it today.

“I got badly outpaced down the hill and I couldn’t go with them – I had to sit and suffer. He winged the second last and I knew when I gave him a squeeze at the back of the second last, I had a big chance.

“I needed a good jump at the last, but he has delivered for me. Once I met the rising ground, he galloped all the way up the hill. Having a light weight on that sort of ground makes a huge difference as well.”

Power admitted he had a tough few days to make the minimum weight.

He added: “I’ve not eaten a whole pile. I’ve eaten a bit of chicken, but very little since Friday morning. I had breakfast Friday morning and a few bits of chicken and All-Bran for breakfast in the mornings, that’s all.

“I’ve not had dinner the last two nights. I don’t like sweating as I’d rather starve than sweat. I did a small sweat this morning. I’m well hydrated as I’ve been drinking plenty of fluids.

“The eating doesn’t bother me as it’s something I’ve grown up with. I’ve probably smoked more in the last couple of days than I ever have before.

“Emmet has done a fantastic job with him. He was impressive over hurdles at Downpatrick and very impressive in a beginners’ chase at Punchestown. Emmet thought coming here off 10st, it was a good chance for him and when the heavens opened, it really played to his strengths.”

The Shunter (right) and Ballyandy battled all the way home
The Shunter (right) and Ballyandy battled all the way home (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Sam Twiston-Davies, rider of runner-up Ballyandy said:  “Ballyandy is a fantastic servant for the yard and he ran really well.”

Kevin Brogan, rider of the third-placed Tegerek, said: “Tegerek ran well. He was being a bit of a boyo before the race which didn’t really help.

“I thought turning in he was going very well, but it’s very hard work in that ground out there – we’re very happy with him.