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.

“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.”

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