Owner Max McNeill is hoping that Kiltealy Briggs can provide him with his first ever Cheltenham Festival winner in the race that he sponsors, following the news that the Ultima Handicap Chase will be supported by his firm for two more years.
The blue and white hooped silks of the McNeill Family have enjoyed great success over the last decade, being carried to Grade One success by the likes of Grumeti and The Worlds End, but a victory at The Festival has eluded them thus far.
McNeill has certainly come close in the past, most recently with Escaria Ten’s valiant effort to finish third in last season’s National Hunt Chase, who looks set to take high rank in the staying chasing division this term. And he’s hoping that the improving Kiltealy Briggs can kick-start what he feels is his ‘strongest ever squad’ this campaign.
He said: “This is 100 percent the best squad we’ve ever had. We’ve got some really nice horses and we’ve been building up over three or four years, buying young horses from Ireland and elsewhere and we’re now starting to see the results.
“We’ve got the likes of Threeunderthrufive, Champagnesuperover, Kiltealy Briggs and Senior Citizen who are all rated around the 140 mark and are still very much unexposed. We’ve also got nine horses who are due to come through in bumpers this season so it’s exciting and every year we keep investing in these young horses.
“Everything you do in relation to your season as an owner is to try and plot your horses for one of the Festival races and we’ve already got Kiltealy Brigss in mind for the Ultima as he’s got the right sort of handicap mark to get in and be competitive. It would be great to pick up some of our own prize money!
“It would be fantastic to get a Festival winner and would just mean the world. We’ve been trying to win that Triumph Hurdle for years and once we do everybody will know about it! Who knows if it’s Kiltealy Briggs in our own race, it would be very special. It doesn’t really matter to me, any winner at The Festival would be fantastic.”
McNeill’s armoury includes the hugely promising novice Threeunderthrufive, who has won two of his three starts over fences for the Paul Nicholls team, including at last month’s November Meeting at Cheltenham. And while the National Hunt Chase is on his immediate radar, McNeill has revealed that he is daring to dream that he could have a Randox Grand National prospect on his hands.
“We’ve not scratched the surface with this lad and he’s rated 149 having only run three times over fences. He could potentially be the best one we’ve ever had and I feel he’s a horse who’s a little under the radar. Everyone’s talking about the flashy Bravemansgame and Ahoy Senor as we just get the job done, but he’s one we’re very excited about and we’d hope he’s a Grand National horse in the making.
“You want horses to run in the big races, that’s what it’s all about and with this guy we’ve got a realistic opportunity. Meanwhile, Escaria Ten’s main aim has always been the Grand National this year and he’s another one that we all very much like.”
McNeill was speaking to The Jockey Club following the news that the software firm Ultima Business Solutions would continue their fine association with the Cheltenham Festival by signing on to sponsor the Festival Trophy Handicap Chase for an additional two years.
The Ultima Handicap Chase has enjoyed some memorable moments since the beginning of the partnership in 2015, including when Lizzie Kelly made headlines round the world when winning with Coo Star Sivola in 2018.
And having sold a majority stake in the firm since the last deal was signed, McNeill explained that he was delighted that the sponsorship has been given the green light to continue.
He said: “I’m really pleased that we’re able to sign on as sponsors for another two years. Whilst still retaining a significant minority stake, I didn’t have the final say as to whether we were going to continue our sponsorship of the race or not. I had to put a case forward and I think they could see the benefit of the sponsorship and our previous seven years of supporting of the race.
“It’s become known as ‘The Ultima’ now which is obviously fantastic and unlike other races at The Festival it’s one which is known by the sponsorship name, which takes a while for people to get used to. We wanted to continue that and Apse Capital as well as our CEO Scott Dodds could see the benefits, such as the excellent coverage by ITV – who are doing a superb job for racing – as well as being able to give targeted customers and suppliers a real inside track to the sport.
“You get a wider audience than just racing fans at The Festival, it attracts that wider audience and it’s great to be involved. I’m a racing nut and have horses here, there and everywhere and it’s great to put something back.”