Marine Nationale, winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, is on course to make an appearance at the Punchestown Festival. The six-year-old delighted owner-trainer Barry Connell with his performance at Cheltenham, and is expected to maintain his unbeaten record in the Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle on April 25. Marine Nationale will be looking to repeat his previous success at Punchestown, where he won a bumper in May 2022 and a maiden hurdle later that year.
“He’s in brilliant form and he’s come back like he didn’t have a race,” said Connell. “He’s back riding out and the plan is to go for the two-mile novice at the Punchestown Festival. I see no reason why he won’t go there and if he continues in the same form he is at the moment, he definitely goes there.”
Marine Nationale is a horse that gives his rider confidence, according to Connell. Jockey Michael O’Sullivan has ridden him in all of his races so far and knows him well. “But that’s the great thing, when you know what you have underneath you, you know you have two or three extra gears and it gives you the confidence to wait and if you are in the wrong position, you know the horse is going to get you out of it,” said Connell.
Marine Nationale’s future is still to be decided, but Connell is confident he will continue to thrive whether he is sent novice chasing or kept over the smaller obstacles for a crack at the Champion Hurdle. “All options are open for next season,” he said. “He jumps superb so you would have no problem going over a fence, but if we go down the other road, I think he is tailor-made for the Champion Hurdle.”
Meanwhile, Good Land, another of Connell’s horses, will be seen over the larger obstacles at the start of the 2023-24 campaign. The seven-year-old finished fourth in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and will now go jumping next season. “He’s not slow, so I would be looking at probably an intermediate distance for him. He has enormous scope and if you let him rock on, even in a two-mile race, he would be hard to beat,” said Connell.
Marine Nationale’s success at Cheltenham was a notable achievement for Connell, a former hedge fund manager who has been involved in racing for many years. “It was a special day. It was my first Cheltenham Festival winner as a trainer and it was a great thrill to win the race,” he said.
Connell has always had a passion for horses and racing. “I grew up with horses and I always had an interest in them,” he said. “I went to college in the UK and worked for a few trainers there. Then I came back to Ireland and started buying horses.”
His involvement in the sport has been a journey that has seen him experience the highs and lows of racing. “It’s a rollercoaster ride,” he said. “You have to be very patient and very persistent. You have to keep going and keep the faith.”
Connell’s success as an owner has come through his ability to spot a good horse. “I’m always looking for that X-factor,” he said. “When you see a horse that has something special, you just know.”
Marine Nationale is certainly a horse that has something special. With his unbeaten record and impressive performances at Punchestown and Cheltenham, he is one to watch in the coming months and years.