Trainer Emmet Mullins praised The Shunter after he claimed his second major handicap at Cheltenham this season when landing the Grade Three Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase.
The eight-year-old had previously landed the Grade Three Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at The November Meeting and the gelding also hands connections a £100,000 bonus, having taken the bet365 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso on his last run before The Festival™ supporting WellChild.
It was a first Festival victory for both trainer Emmet Mullins and jockey Jordan Gainford and, as the 15th Irish-trained success of the week, secured the Pertemps Prestbury Cup for Ireland.
Mullins said at the post-race press conference: “He was very good today. He’s tough and durable; there doesn’t seem to be anything fazing him. It’s probably no great reflection on me, but at the time I thought he had to go for a beginners’ chase at Punchestown for horses rated 116 or less over hurdles.
“I wasn’t sure he’d be able to manage a normal beginners’ chase at that time of year, and to have come from there to here is an unbelievable journey.
“Jordan is catching everyone in Ireland’s eye at the moment. He’s very talented and the owner, Paul, was fairly insistent on claiming 7lb, and at that Jordan was the only option. He’s very good and he showed that here today.
“It’s great from Kelso to give this bonus. Win, lose or draw, we always thought it was the right move to go to Kelso for the Morebattle Hurdle. It is a huge pot in its own right, and to go there and take on 13 others rather than go for the County Hurdle off the same mark and take on 24 was first and foremost. We got that one right, and it has just fallen into place since.”
Jordan Gainford added: “It’s unbelievable really. It’s something you can’t describe. It’s a feeling I’ve never had before. It is hard to describe that feeling when you cross the line, it is just something else to be honest.
“Today he (Emmet Mullins) told me to jump off good and smart. I rode him out this morning and he was in great form and he was very on his toes but he is a busy sort of horse. Stepping up in trip to two half should suit him and he said try and get him relaxed fourth or fifth but away from the stands he took me away a little bit so I let him enjoy himself.
“I gave him a squeeze at one or two as he tends to do his own little thing. Down to the last I just made sure I went tight and popped it. He battled hard from the last and I can’t believe it. I’ve talked to great people during the week.
“I spoke to Davy Russell the other night and he filled me full of confidence and said go out and ride like have been for the last three or four years and pretend it is point-to-pointing. A big thanks to Barry O’Neill, the champion amateur in Ireland and Colin Bowe.
“I spoke to Barry earlier on the phone and he filled me full of confidence. He said it is no different to riding a handicap chase at Wexford and to just pretend you are there.
“That’s what I kept at the back of my head and it’s just a massive thanks to everyone. It was something I didn’t have in the back of my head (the bonus) I wanted to get to the line as quickly as possible as I knew there was one or two behind me. I got there plenty earlier enough and I was a little bit worried but I knew the step up in trip would help me out. He doesn’t save himself but turning in with such horse in hand I couldn’t believe it.
“Even after the last, which he got in under a little bit, he took off again but that shows the class of horse he is.”
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Top Notch (third) and Caribean Boy (seventh) said: “Top Notch has run some race under that weight. He’s the most amazing little horse. Absolutely staggering. Caribean Boy got planted at the start. We’d wanted to make the running.”
Luca Morgan, rider of Top Notch, added: “He tried so hard. He felt like a fresh horse over the first three and ran a really good race. I thought going to the last that he might pick them up, but he got a bit tired.”
Tom O’Brien the jockey on fourth-placed Coole Cody, said: “He’s a fantastic horse and he’s run really well again. He gave me a super ride.”
1st – The Shunter – Emmet Mullins IRE 8-10-05 Jordan Gainford (7) 9/4 Fav
2nd – Farclas – Denise Foster IRE 7-11-04 Jack Kennedy 5/1
3rd – Top Notch – Nicky Henderson 10-11-05 Luca Morgan (7) 50/1
4th – Coole Cody – Evan Williams 10-11-01 Tom O’Brien 22/1
Distances: 3, 3¼, hd
Time: 5m 18.28s
Winning Owner: Mr P Byrne
Breeder: James O’Connor
Breeding: b g Stowaway - Tornado Lady (Gulland)
Emmet Mullins – 1st winner at The Festival™ supporting WellChild
Jordan Gainford – 1st winner at The Festival™ supporting WellChild