02 January 2024

Connell maps out Festival route for Marine Nationale

02 January 2024

Barry Connell’s Marine Nationale has the rest of his season mapped out after a perfect start to his chasing career.

The gelding was flawless in bumpers and over hurdles, winning two National Hunt Flat starts before taking three successive novice hurdle races last season.

The latter two of those performances were at Grade One level, firstly in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse and then the Supreme at the Cheltenham Festival, where he was a superb winner ahead of Facile Vega.

His chasing debut came in a beginners’ contest at Leopardstown on December 27, where he was steered by Michael O’Sullivan to a foot-perfect eight-and-a-half-length win.

The Irish Arkle, the Arkle and then the Punchestown Festival is the route drawn out for him and Connell reports the bay to be faring well as he moves towards his next engagement.

“We couldn’t be happier with the way he’s come out of the race,” the trainer said.

“He jumped great, never made a mistake and he seems to be in great nick.

“He’s had a couple of quiet days, he’ll start back riding out tomorrow and we’ll be building up to the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

“From next weekend it’s only three weekends away, so it won’t be long at all coming around.

“The spin he had at Christmas should leave him spot on, it’s the exact same course and distance and the ground will hopefully be a bit drier, but he has proven he can run on any ground.

“We wouldn’t want to see him on bottomless but he’s probably a bit more ground versatile than we thought.

“He’s in a good place, he’s happy and we’re looking forward to him hopefully doing the same in Dublin and after that we’ll be on to the Arkle.”

The seven-year-old had to do more than just win to impress onlookers as his reputation is significant, but he still managed to surpass high hopes – particularly with the accurate round of jumping he produced.

“Even if you’re Constitution Hill, when the season ends and a new one starts you kind of have to go back to basics and prove yourself all over again,” Connell said.

“We liked what we were seeing at home but of course we were apprehensive going into the race, just hoping everything would go right and nothing silly would happen.

“He exceeded our expectations in how well he’s taken to fences, he’s going to be going to Cheltenham on the back of a beginners’ race and a Grade One and that’s the exact same profile he had last year when he went with a maiden hurdle win and a Royal Bond win.

“He won’t lack for experience when he’s been around Leopardstown for a second time, they’re big fences there and it’s quite a daunting thing for a novice to go around there, but if he can do similar there in three weeks, he’ll be well set up for the challenges afterwards.

“We have him back in the same order as last year and he’s proven he can jump really quickly and efficiently. I know he’s a short-priced favourite for the Arkle now but I think that’s probably justified based on what he’s achieved so far.”

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