McConnell on a Mission with Mahler for Aintree

Last Updated 11 Jan 2024 | By Enda McElhinney | Commercial content | 18+ | Play Responsibly | T&C Apply | Wagering

Horse Racing – National Hunt – Cheltenham Festival – Day One – The Wellchild National Hunt challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys Novices steeple chase – Cheltenham Racecourse – Tuesday 14th March 2023 Johnny Barry on Mahler Mission 5 leads after the first circuit COLORSPORT / Andrew Cowie PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK

Irish trainer John McConnell is plotting backwards from Aintree in April as he looks to bring Mahler Mission to the boil for the Grand National.

McConnell wants the eight-year-old in peak form for the April 13th race and will be gathering momentum this spring accordingly.

The trainer, based at Stamullen in Co Meath, has developed an excellent reputation for success when targeting races in the UK. McConnell has a 28 per-cent strike-rate with runners at Cheltenham.

Impressive first season over fences

Mahler Mission is a second-season chaser, winning a three-mile beginners’ event at Navan in January 2023 before finishing second in the Grade 2 William Hill Ten Up Novice Chase at the Co Meath venue the following month.

That prompted McConnell to take aim at the National Hunt Cup at the Cheltenham Festival last March and his faith appeared set to be rewarded when Mahler Mission surged clear in the second half of the race.

Mahler Mission was still some five-lengths to the good, with favourite Gaillard Du Mesnil struggling to bridge the gap, when disaster struck and he came down at the penultimate obstacle.

It was, none the less, a four-race campaign that marked Mahler Mission down as a staying chaser of some potential.

Encouraging return with silvers medals

The Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle, a Listed contest over just two-and-a-half-miles, was the starting point for Mahler Mission this season and he was second there behind Thunder Rock for the Olly Murphy team in the first week of November.

McConnell then sent Mahler Mission to Newbury for the Coral Gold Cup where he ran a fine second behind Datsalrightgino off a mark of 151 over three-and-a-quarter-miles.

After a short break, Mahler Mission is now back in work and his trainer sees no reason there should not be further improvement from a horse with only seven chase runs behind him.

“He’s in good form, he had a good break after the Coral and he’s back riding out now,” said McConnell.

“It was a good race, horses have won out of it since and we were very, very happy on the day. Hopefully, there’s a bit more to come.”

Aintree confirmed as the primary spring target

The Grand National was mentioned in the aftermath of that Newbury race and, after some thinking time, Aintree is now very much the big target this spring.

McConnell says the Cheltenham Festival is not on his radar this time around. Now rated 155, that’s more than good enough to get a run in the Grand National and a spin over hurdles is the likely prep for Aintree with a view to protecting that mark, just 4lb higher than he was at Newbury.

“Hopefully, we’ll get a clear run with him; he’ll miss Cheltenham and the target will be the National,” said the trainer.

“He should be on a nice racing weight, it’s the Grand National and we could get him there and then anything could happen on the day, but he’s entitled to take his chance.

“He ticks a lot of the boxes for the race, he’s still a relatively young horse and he’d certainly be worth his place in the field.

“We’ve not got a plan yet, I’d have to sit down and try and find a race for him before and see what there is about. It wouldn’t bother us if we went back over hurdles, that’s definitely an option.”

Mahler Mission is a general 16/1 chance for the National at Aintree in April 13th, with last season’s National Hunt Chase winner Gaillard Du Mesnil in the books at around 14/1 for Merseyside marathon.

Enda McElhinney

Enda McElhinney is a racing writer with a growing portfolio of work on both British and Irish racing, with a particular fondness for National Hunt racing. While he acknowledges there have been many great runners; there has only ever been one Denman.

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