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Vincent Finegan

Vincent Finegan

An Absolute Freak

Marine Nationale winning his maiden hurdle at PunchestownMarine Nationale winning his maiden hurdle at Punchestown
© Photo Healy Racing

Barry Connell gave a very refreshing interview to At The Races last week about the chances of Marine Nationale in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham. Most trainers tend to be quite guarded about the chances of their horses ahead of these big races and end up using a string of cliches that leave you none the wiser to what they really think.

Maybe it’s the fact that Connell also owns the horse in question that allowed him to simply speak his mind, but it was lovely to hear someone being so open and enthusiastic about a horse’s chances. “Even though I’ve had Grade One winners before, I’ve never had a horse like this before, he’s an absolute freak. I think we are only scratching the surface. I wasn’t concerned about Facile Vega (prior to his Dublin Racing Festival defeat), I think we have the best horse in the race.”

“We’ve got a Grade One horse, he’s been there and done it. There are four attributes a horse needs to go and win a Grade One at Cheltenham. The first is tactical speed, it’s a very undulating, tight track and you need to have speed to travel and hold your position and he certainly has that. The second thing is you need to be a very good jumper, which he is. The third and probably the most important is temperament. This guy’s temperament is absolutely bombproof. He’s not going to get flustered and lose his race, he doesn’t need hoods or earplugs or anything like that. The fourth thing is the ability to stay and guts and stamina and we found that out after he jumped the last in the Royal Bond, what he finds off the bridle, so if you were to design the perfect candidate for a Grade One Novice at Cheltenham I don’t think you could come up with a better specimen than Marine.”

Barry Connell has pumped tens of millions into the sport and his persistence is beginning to pay off with both Marine Nationale and Good Land heading to Cheltenham with leading chances in their respective Grade One assignments. He has had enough knockbacks down the years to know that nothing is assured in this game, but few could begrudge him first Festival winner as a trainer and it may very well come in the opening race of this year's Festival. Then again there are a more than a few who still think Facile Vega is equally as freakish.

The weather looks like it’s going to play ball for Cheltenham with a short cold snap over the next couple of days giving way to showery weather which should mean all is set fair for a cracking week’s racing. There could be as much as 40mm of rainfall between this Thursday and the start of the Festival.

The whip debacle in the UK is rumbling on, but hopefully it won’t spoil the enjoyment of next week’s action too much. The BHA has certainly shot itself in the foot bringing in these new rules so close to Cheltenham, but while I disagree in principle to the whip review committee meeting one week later to dole out sanctions I do think it could be a blessing for the showpiece Festival. At least we will be spared daily announcements of whip suspensions for infringements and will instead get them all in one big traunch the following week.

That said, if it does turn out that one or more of our senior Irish riders goes through the four days of Cheltenham with a whip action that contravenes the new rules we are in for some real fireworks the following week. If a leading rider like Paul Townend was to use their whip above shoulder height throughout the Festival they could end up spending the remainder of the season on the sidelines in addition to telephone number size fines. Not to mention the possibility that some rider or other goes overboard with their whip in a driving finish and the horse is thrown out the following week.

Finally, you may have noticed on this website that we are running a free competition in advance of Cheltenham. Normally these sorts of competitions come with some strings attached, but not this one.

All we ask you to do is give your prediction as to the outcome of the Prestbury Cup at Cheltenham next week and select a horse in the Gold Cup.

The winner of the competition will have two fabulous prizes to choose from - a trip to the entire Cheltenham Festival in 2024 or a Caribbean cruise which can be booked for anytime in 2024. Each prize has a total value of €6,000 and is for two people.

Entering this free competition could be your best chance of a big win next week.

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