TONY MARTIN will prepare runaway Cork bumper victor Golantilla for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham after Cork-based handler Sean O'Brien agreed a lucrative deal to sell the highly regarded five-year-old to Barry Connell.
The sale, understood to be worth in excess of €350,000, is subject to the son of Golan passing a routine veterinary check this morning and represents a real fairytale for the trainer based in Kilworth in north Cork.
Should Golantilla come through that, the transaction will amount to a resounding vindication of O'Brien's decision to turn down a bid of what he calls "a genuine £180,000" at last month's Brightwells Sale in Cheltenham after the horse had hacked up on its Avaune point-to-point debut.
O'Brien, who, along with his mother Eileen, bred Golantilla, described the exciting youngster as an "absolute machine" after it stormed 13 lengths clear on its track debut under Ciaran Fennessy on Saturday.
At the time, he also nominated the March Grade One, for which Golantilla is now as low as 10/1 co-favourite, as the horse's primary objective this season.
"He is going to Tony Martin's and, as I understand it, will still be trained for the Cheltenham bumper," said O'Brien.
"Barry Connell is a good racing man, so I'm delighted that it is him getting the horse."
Based in the hurling-mad village of Kilworth, O'Brien has long been recognised as one of the shrewdest judges of a horse in an area that is renowned as a point-to-point stronghold.
The trainer – who learned his trade with Aidan O'Brien when the Ballydoyle maestro was based in Piltown, Co Kilkenny – has made no secret of his high regard for Golantilla in recent weeks, and, having held firm in his avowal not to sell for less than £200,000 in England, he took a similarly firm line in the aftermath of Saturday's deeply impressive triumph.
"A lot of the usual clients were interested," he admitted, "but we had no interest in a bidding war.
"We had a price in mind and, without being stupid about it, if we didn't get what we wanted, we were happy to keep him.
"I asked in the region of €400,000, and, while we had to give a little, we weren't disappointed with what we got. At the end of the day, everything has a value.
"Tony had asked me before the race on Saturday if what he had been hearing about the horse was true and I told him I couldn't see him coming off the bridle. That was the first time I spoke to him about the horse and it was all sorted very quickly on Sunday morning."
O'Brien's father John, who passed away in October, purchased Golantilla's dam for just IR£600.
Asked about the implicit gamble of a modest stable, which relies heavily on turning over horses, not accepting the sizeable sterling bid that was offered in December, O'Brien says he never doubted the horse would justify his judgment. "The way I looked at it, we are only a small set-up, but we weren't going hungry before Cheltenham and we weren't going to go hungry if I kept him.
"I felt if he won a bumper he would be easier to sell. Obviously, there was that bit of pressure since we brought him back, but I never doubted the horse."
Connell – a 53-year-old Carrickmines-based stockbroker and fund manager, is a popular figure on Irish racetracks – having started out riding many of his own horses in bumpers 10 years ago.
Since hanging up his boots in 2010, he has concentrated on increasing the quality of his string. While his operation is still some way behind those of JP McManus and Michael O'Leary in terms of depth of quality, purchases like this confirm his intent.
This is the second time in the space of 12 months that he has spent big on established talent, having last year paid £300,000 for 'point' winner Old Kilcash, which finished third in a recent Leopardstown bumper on its debut for John 'Shark' Hanlon.
Meanwhile, Graham Wylie, owner of the Willie Mullins-trained Back In Focus – successful in the three-mile Grade One novice chase at the Christmas Festival in Foxrock – has stated that the mud-loving stayer might not go to Cheltenham if the ground doesn't come up sufficiently soft.
Last Instalment, one of last season's leading novices before picking up a serious tendon injury, has been ruled for the remainder of the season after Philip Fenton revealed that he has picked up a similar injury again.