Rising star Mulholland on trail of golden glory
Neil Mulholland is not yet through his third full season as a trainer, but three weeks tomorrow the rising star of the National Hunt ranks will have his first Totesport Gold Cup runner when he sends Cheltenham course specialist Midnight Chase, a 20/1 chance, for jump racing's Blue Riband.
County Antrim-born Mulholland (30) was a journeyman jockey when the opportunity arose for him to take over from Paul Keane, for whom he was stable jockey. It was not an offer he had to think twice about.
Having spent his first six years in racing as an apprentice with Aidan O'Brien, he broke bones, but failed to break through as a jump jockey, either in the north of England or when he went south. His progress as a trainer has been somewhat swifter.
"I'd had operations on both legs and both collar bones were pinned and plated," he said, reflecting on his riding career. "If you can't get it out of your system in 12 years and realise, at the same time, that you're not going to be champion, it's a poor lookout. The reality of it was that you couldn't make a living from 20 winners a year."
Having moved the operation to Sunnyside, formerly Martin Pipe's second yard, near Somerset, last May, Mulholland has not looked back.
Yesterday, Midnight Chase, a strongly built gelding, looked a picture of health, happiness and enthusiasm as he led Mulholland's string three times up the Pipe's woodchip gallop.
Having not run since December 10, to avoid the mud and freshen up, the trainer will take him away for a gallop on Saturday and for another gallop somewhere on grass between now and March 18.
Having shown promise over hurdles -- Mulholland won on him first time out at Perth -- it was not until they decided to make the running with him at Fontwell in March last year that fences began to click with Midnight Chase. He's only been beaten once since.
"He jumped well at home, but lacked a bit of confidence on the racecourse. So, we found a race with a small field for him and decided to make the running," said Mulholland. "He's a different horse in front. But he's won over two miles and five furlongs, so he's not slow. He should have the gears to make the running in the Gold Cup and we know he stays, having won over course and distance."
Midnight Chase has now won his last four starts at Cheltenham. "He loves it there and the better the ground, the better the horse," added Mulholland.
"We haven't run him since he won there in December because there was no point in slogging round in the mud and he's run eight times in the last year. I hope we haven't got to the bottom of him yet, on a racecourse. He only ever seems to do enough and then keeps finding, finding, finding.
"We've never said we're going there to win, we're going there with an each-way chance. He's one of the underdogs, but he's entitled to be going and there are a couple above him in the market which you might question over the track."
- There were no surprise absentees following the latest forfeit stage for Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy at next month's Cheltenham Festival.
Ghizao, Medermit and Finian's Rainbow are currently battling it out at the head of the betting for the Grade One contest and all remain possible runners. As well as Finian's Rainbow, Nicky Henderson has Bellvano and Giorgio Quercus in the reckoning, while Captain Chris is a contender for Philip Hobbs.
Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins can call on Blazing Tempo and Mikael D'Haguenet, while Irish Arkle hero Realt Dubh could represent Noel Meade.
Mamlook, Quel Esprit, Surfing and the fatally injured Kilmurry are among those which have been scratched, leaving 23 remaining entries.