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The Shunter seeking more staying honours for Emmet Mullins

The Shunter seeking more staying honours for Emmet Mullins
The Shunter seeking more staying honours for Emmet Mullins

The Shunter is out to conquer another valuable handicap prize when he tackles the Duke of Westminster Supporting The Chester Cup on Friday.

The 11-year-old has been a star performer under both codes for trainer Emmet Mullins, providing the Irishman with a first Cheltenham Festival success in 2021 and showing no signs of his powers waning when plundering the Cesarewitch last autumn.

The Grand National-winning handler has had his eye on the Roodee ever since and is putting superstition to one side, hoping a draw of stall 13 does not scupper connections’ grand plan.

The Shunter after winning at Newmarket
The Shunter after winning at Newmarket (Nigel French/PA)

“For a stayer like him, there are not too many opportunities for him and this has been in the back of our minds since Newmarket,” said Mullins.

“Fingers crossed he seems in good form and he is a very tough horse as he has shown over the years. He likes those big handicaps and the hurly-burly of it all, so fingers crossed he can repeat his Newmarket form.

“He’s in stall 13 so he’s sort of middle to outer, but hopefully it will be lucky for some.”

Andrew Balding saddled his Ascot Gold Cup runner-up Coltrane to go close two years ago and has assembled a strong three-horse attack on this year’s renewal.

Grand Providence blew away the cobwebs at Newbury
Grand Providence blew away the cobwebs at Newbury (PA)

The consistent Grand Providence was the last to sneak into the line-up and races off 8st 6lb in the hands of Hayley Turner, while Aztec Empire also brings smart staying form to the table, with Oisin Murphy in the plate. Spirit Mixer completes the Kingsclere triumvirate.

Ian Williams is another handler to know all about the Chester Cup and Magic Circle’s trainer will rely on Aqwaam, Zealandia and The Grand Visir this time around, while Hugo Palmer saddles both Zoffee and Solent Gateway.

The former was second to Metier 12 months ago and is 3lb lower this time around as he attempts to go one better.

Palmer said: “He’s in the form of his life and I’m much happier going into the race than I was last year.

“It was a struggle to get him ready last year, for whatever reason he didn’t want to come, he didn’t look right and we only just got him there.

“He ran a huge race on ground we didn’t think he would like and he’s definitely better on top of the ground. He gets his ground this time and he’s 3lb lower in the handicap and you would think he has a solid chance.”

Zoffee has been handed the plum draw in stall one, but his handler is cautious about the merits of that position, pointing out the potential pitfalls for jockey Harry Davies.

“I’m a little bit concerned about the draw and he probably will be OK, but in a big-field handicap you have the danger of horses coming back into your lap,” continued Palmer.

Zoffee in action at Newcastle
Zoffee in action at Newcastle (Richard Sellers/PA)

“There’s less of a cutaway for Friday and we’ve just got to be mindful of that and for one to be a good draw, the horses in front of you have got to be going forward when you want to be going forward.

“I don’t want to pour cold water on getting the number one draw, but there is a concern and if Harry gets himself forward and finds himself in the first half dozen and one off the rail, then I will much happier than if he is stuck in a pocket.”

Joseph O’Brien’s Irish raider Magellan Strait arrives on the back of victory at Dundalk and will have the assistance of William Buick, while Duke Of Oxford has been knocking on the door in staying contests, with his trainer Michael Bell taking plenty of encouragement from his second to Prydwen on All-Weather Championships Finals Day.

He said: “His recent form was franked by the horse that beat him at Newcastle and we’ve had this in mind ever since. He’s had a very good prep heading into the race and we are hopeful of a good run.

“He’s on an attractive mark and certainly deserves to be one of the market leaders.”

Duke Of Oxford is one of the horses burdened with an outside draw. However, Bell is buoyed by some of the recent results in the race and is confident the mount of David Egan can manoeuvre his way into contention.

Bell added: “A horse won from that draw four years ago (Making Miracles) and I’ve watched some replays of the recent Chester Cups and Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori both came from a fair way back on recent winners.

“Obviously you are a hostage to the pace up front if you drop in, but certainly over two and a quarter miles you can overcome it.”

As well as The Shunter and Magellan Strait, both Tony Martin’s Zanndabad and Dermot Weld’s Falcon Eight carry Irish hopes, with the latter running in the two-and-a-quarter-mile handicap for the fourth straight year having won in the hands of Frankie Dettori in 2021.

Kevin Ryan’s Forza Orza is 3lb higher than when landing a valuable handicap at last year’s Ebor meeting and is one of two in the race for Yorkshire trainers alongside Declan Carroll’s course specialist Emiyn, who seeks to better his seventh in the race in 2023.

“He’s won there a couple of times and he ran well in the race there last year,” said Carroll.

“He seems to be a better horse around there and I think the atmosphere lights him up. He seems to show his best form there for sure.

“He’s in good form and we’ve always had this race in mind as his main race for this part of the season. Seven is not a bad draw for him and he likes to go forward and he’s in good form and will give a good account of himself I’m sure.”

Ed Dunlop’s Citizen General and James Owen’s Too Friendly complete a full field of 17.

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