A maiden status waiting to be shed.
But a date with destiny lies in wait for Max McNeill ahead of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival. The recognisable racing owner, with his even more popular choice of silks, is a huge component in National Hunt both at home and in Ireland.
The Lancashire native is the founder and chairman of Ultima Business Solutions – sponsors of the Festival’s third race, the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase. And following the long association with Gloucestershire’s main event, only a winner this March is next in the queue for Max and co to tick off the list.
Grumeti, The Worlds End, Seddon and more have chanced their arm at Prestbury Park, but the McNeill Family are perhaps head to Cheltenham with their most exciting bunch of representatives to date.
But what is Mr McNeill’s background in the sport and what does the Cheltenham Festival mean to him?
Max spoke to us to answer a series of questions ahead of the National Hunt Olympics in just under a couple of weeks’ time.
What is your background in horse racing and what made you want to be an owner?
I always followed horse racing as a child with my dad, Ted, and then enjoyed going racing for a few beers as I got older. I wanted to own horses in time but needed to do well enough in business first before making the jump.
The first horse we owned was Jackella with Alan and Lawney Hill, named after my two children.
Adrian Heskin is your retained rider; what are the benefits of having the same jockey riding your horses, regardless of the yard they represent?
Exactly that – continuity. We keep the same rider on, which we think is a big thing and he is also brilliant in advising on buying and selling horses. He also knows all the horses very well and lets us compare between horses in the squad.
We feel gives us a little bit more than just using the stable jockeys in all the yards we have horses. That is not a criticism of the other jockeys we use, and we are fortunate to have horses in yards where there is a good team of riders.
When he is injured, I think I miss him riding as much as he does!
Who is the favourite horse you’ve ever owned and why?
Very difficult. Walkon was my first Graded winner and won two Grade 1s. He really made me yearn to compete at the top table in the big races. Other good ones have followed too, but he was the first.
Tritonic has made an impressive start to life over hurdles; how confident are you on his chances for the 2021 Triumph with him shortening significantly in the betting following his win at Kempton on Saturday?
I hope he runs very well. I have a lot of respect for all the horses in the race and it looks like a vintage renewal of the race. All I know is we will be better than we were at Kempton and if that’s good enough then so be it.
Are there any horses running at this year’s Festival that you own that are going under the radar?
A few hopefully. Shearer in the bumper is a horse we think an awful lot of – named after Alan Shearer because of his efforts winning Blackburn Rovers the Premier League in 1995.
Kiltealy Briggs in the Plate is a horse we have minded this year. We think the trip in the race will suit him and he has been aimed at this race for a long time. I just hope we aren’t too well handicapped!
Threeunderthrufive isn’t flashy but has a wonderful attitude and I think he should be much shorter in the betting for the Albert Bartlett. He’s 3/3 over hurdles and as a team, we are confident of much more to come.
If you could own one horse that runs at this year’s Festival in different silks, who would you opt for?
Where will you be watching this season’s Festival?
Through my fingers! That will be the same this year. I normally watch it out the front or in the paddock and will be at home this year.
If you could win any race at the Cheltenham Festival, which one would it be?
Champion Hurdle with a Triumph Hurdle winner! So Triumph first!
What are the meaning behind the names of your horses?
It varies really. Some are linked to sport (Shearer, Ewood Park, Threeunderthrufive), some are linked to business deals (Tritonic), some are linked to alcohol (Tritonic again!), some are general sporting occasions (Champagnesuperover) and some get linked to the pedigree.
If you could sum up the Cheltenham Festival in one word, it would be…?
Christmas – look forward to it all year and you normally need a new liver and plenty of sleep after!