Not often does Willie Mullins get things wrong? You don’t win seven Cheltenham Festival top trainer awards in 10 years with bad judgment. However, he could be left ruing his decision to sell Skyace at auction, where she was sold for a mere £600. To put that into perspective, just last month Irish billionaire JP McManus forked out over half a million for Jonbon, who is actually the brother of his former Cheltenham winner Douvan.
The six-year-old placed in each of her three bumpers under Mullins, but that clearly wasn’t enough to impress the Irish trainer – she was the favourite in all three after all – and She was subsequently sold to ‘Shark’ Hanlon’s yard for just £600. However, she has come on leaps and bounds under Hanlon’s guidance.
Four Grade 3 victories in eight races, including the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Down Royal, have left her in good stead, and now the Cheltenham Festival is on the horizon, and she is gunning straight for the Cotswolds.
“Skyace is back in about three weeks and is in great form. She will go straight for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham,” Hanlon said.
“She put up between 30 and 40 kilos on her break, which is great. She is much stronger than she was when she went out.
“To buy a horse for £600 and go to Cheltenham with a chance is a dream, and I think she has a live chance.”
Whilst the trainer believes the mare is in with a good chance of winning the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle on the third day of the Festival, the bookies think otherwise. She is a massive outsider at 16/1, and given that she is up against the likes of Mullins-trained Gauloise and Peter Fahey’s duo of Royal Kahala and Gypsy Island, who is owned by McManus, you’d have to say that her chances are slim.
However, given the fact that she was written off and sold at auction for a mere £600, fighting back against the odds and featuring at the Cheltenham Festival at all is a fantastic story within itself for all those involved with the horse.
Writing off Skyace again ahead of the Festival would be a mistake as well. She set off in the aforementioned Grade 3 at Down Royal in Northern Ireland as a whopping 66/1 outsider, but she was good enough to hold off the challenges of Queens Brook, beating the Gordon Elliott-trained favourite over the line by a neck. Victory in that race was worth £20,000 alone.
In her last outing in December, a Listed Mares Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, she lined up for starter’s orders as a 28/1 shot, but yet again she defied the odds, winning the two-mile, four-furlong and 12-hurdle race by a rather comfortable five lengths.
The problem is you can never be sure with Skyace. Her owner, Cathal McHugh of Birdinthehand syndicate, who revealed he would have paid as much as £10,000 for her at that auction, admitted that she isn’t ‘the best trainer’, and a torrid four runs wedged in between her four victories, which included a fall and coming last, is evidence that she really is hit or miss at the best of times.
It would take a brave punter to back Skyace to win the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, but given her history of springing surprises, we wouldn’t be shocked to see her names at the top of the Cheltenham Festival results!