Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Neil Mulholland: “Jump racing is a great game, nothing better”

By his own admission, Neil Mulholland has “a bit of fun training some horses for the Flat”, but is, predominantly, a National Hunt trainer. He took out his first full training licence in 2008, when he replaced his former employer, Paul Keane, at Larkinglass Farm, near Shaftesbury, Dorset.

By far his best horse in those early years was Midnight Chase, who won 11 races, including the Argento Chase at Cheltenham in 2012, and finished fifth of 13, beaten 19 lengths, behind Long Run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011. Following his retirement, Mulholland said, “I owe him an awful lot, but the main thing is he has retired safe and sound.”

In 2012, Mulholland moved his string to Conkwell Grange Stables, a purpose-built yard in Limpley Stoke, near Bath, Somerset. In 2012/13 he saddled 19 winners under National Hunt Rules and has steadily improved his total, year-on-year, culminating with 108 winners in 2016/17.

However, life as a trainer has not always been plain sailing for Mulholland. In Novermber, 2014, he saddled The Young Master, an impressive, 7-length winner of the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton, only for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) to lodge an objection. The objection, on the grounds that the horse was not qualified to run in the race, having run just twice over fences, instead of the prerequisite three times, was upheld. The Young Master was disqualified and Mulholland was fined £250 after being found to be in breach of Rule (C)37.

He said afterwards, “I wasn’t the only one at fault. There were something like 1,500 non-qualified entries made last year, but [racing administrators] Weatherbys changed their [computer] system in September. It failed and I’ve had to pay the price.” To add insult to injury, The Young Master was raised 14lb in the weights for ‘winning’ at Wincanton.

In March, 2015, Mulholland saddled his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, when Druids Nephew, ridden by Barry Geraghty, won the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase by 3¾ lengths. The King’s Theatre gelding started 10/1 fourth favourite for the Grand National on the strength of that performance but, having taken the lead at Valentine’s Brook on the second circuit at Aintree, fell at the fifth last fence.

One horse heading to the Cheltenham Festival in 2018 is Kalondra, who finished tailed off in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last time, but on ground “a touch too soft for him to be seen to best effect”, according to his trainer. The 7-year-old has subsequently been dropped 2lb in the weights and can be backed at 16/1 for the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, which Mulholland described as his “logical target”.

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