EXCLUSIVE WITH MAX MCNEILL

As the new NH season is about to get into full flow, I have had the pleasure to talk to Max & The Mcneill Family about their horses, highlights & Low points.

Can you tell us how & why you got into owning race horses & who was the first horse you owned?

My Dad was into racing and some of my earliest childhood memories are with Dad reading the racing pages and having a bet on the horses. In fact, Portrush Ted is a horse we named after Dad and it meant a huge amount to the whole family when he won his only racing start at Uttoxeter in March.

As I got older I enjoyed going to the races and fancied, when the time was right, getting involved in owning a few horses.

Our first horse was Jackella named after our two children. He was trained by Lawney Hill and even now one of our favourite wins was when James Tudor won on him at Stratford despite plenty going wrong towards the finish.

How long have you owned horses & how do you acquire them?

Been owning horses for 12 years now and over that time had some wonderful times and some great memories.
We have changed strategy a bit in recent years. Previously we focused solely on buying horses off the flat to go juvenile hurdling but we have now started buying 2yo, store horses, horses from point to points as well as horses to go juvenile hurdling. We have input into buying horses but also use Anthony Bromley/Tessa Greatrex from Highflyer and Tom Malone.

Do you have a say in which races your horses run in or do you leave that down to the trainer?

The trainer always has the final say however I do make suggestions and recommendations from time to time.

What has been the favourite highlights of owning horses to date & why?

In no particular order our six favourite days are as follows…

The Worlds End bouncing back at Aintree. After the Albert Bartlett we were left wondering, “what if” and it was a superb training performance by Tom to get him back after such a horrible fall. We have maximum faith in him and it was good for him to get a Grade 1 at a wonderful track where we have had some very special days.

Grumeti winning his Grade 1 at Aintree in The Anniversary Hurdle. After he was beaten in the Triumph Hurdle by Countrywide Flame it was brilliant to win a Grade 1 of our own just a few weeks later. It was great to see Countrywide Flame run such a huge race in the following seasons Champion Hurdle when unfortunately, we missed out due to injury

Despite not being there Grumeti winning The Cesarewitch is one of our favourite memories. It was great for my brother Hugh to be there, collect the prize and even have a few quid on him. I was watching my son, Jack, play football on the day and completely embarrassed him after he won the race! When we buy the juvenile hurdlers we always have half a mind to go back onto the flat at some stage and it was brilliant to go back and win a big prize.

We retired Grumeti a few weeks ago now and he has got a home not too far from us now and we are all looking forward to visiting him and spoiling him rotten.

One of our best (and worst) memory in racing involves Mille Chief. The day he won the Kingwell Hurdle he beat Celestial Halo, Silviniaco Conti and Overturn and it is great to see the honours board at Wincanton and see his name up alongside some legendary 2 milers. Unfortunately for him he never got the chance to show his quality too often on the track as he was injured a few weeks before the Triumph and then died on the gallops after a routine piece of work.

Olofi winning the Racing Post Hurdle (Greatwood) a few years ago was another great memory. Walkon had been beaten into second in the Paddy Power 24 hours earlier and despite Olofi running well at the course I was worried about improving, young, well handicapped rivals. Thankfully, he got a very good wide from Paddy Brennan and powered up the hill to win especially after his near misses in previous years. He had finished 5th in 2010 and 2nd in 2011 before winning it in 2012.

Walkon was our first very good horse and in his early races I don’t think we quite realised or appreciated how good he was. I think it was only after Chepstow in the Finale we began to think he was a star in the making and one we may not own better than. Unfortunately he ran into Zaynar in the Triumph in what felt like one of the best races for juveniles. He then injured himself when winning his second Grade 1 at Aintree and only had a few races in the following two years and we decided to embark on a chasing career. It just happened that Zaynar was also lined up to run in the race and the first time our paths had crossed since Cheltenham and the Triumph. Thankfully, we won this time and although we didn’t know it at the time it would actually be the last time he won a race despite running mighty races to finish second in a Paddy Power, a December Gold Cup and a Topham. One of my big friends, Andy White, always named this as his favourite days racing although having jumped on me after The Sefton this year that might have changed!

Away from the favourite days my favourite thing about owning horses is the enjoyment get out of it. This can be watching the horses run, endless hours on the phones talking about them and enjoying the day out with friends and family. We have made some good friends through racing and through twitter, as a family, we enjoy interacting with other horse racing fans. When we posted the decision to retire Grumeti we were amazed by how many responses, comments, retweets and likes we had and its great owning a horse that so many people enjoyed watching and seem to care so much about.

If you could have owned any race horse PAST or PRESENT, who would it be & why?

Kauto Star. No brainer! The longevity he had, the ability to bounce back and to win Grade 1 races over a variety of distances on a variety of courses. As a family we were fortunate to watch a couple of his King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup wins and they were very special occasions.

Can you give our readers a couple of horses to look out for in the coming season?

Will give you a few horses people might not be aware of and before this season had not run for us. As well as that I don’t want to annoy a trainer so you can have one from each trainer!
Act of Valour – a 3yo flat horse who we bought out of Michael O Callaghans yard in Ireland to hopefully be competitive in juvenile hurdles. He is being trained by Paul Nicholls.
Chosen Path – a 4yo horse we bought from a Cheltenham Sale after finishing 3rd in his Irish point to point. He has obviously already won at Fontwell but we were expecting him to run well and thankfully he did and has come out of the race fine.

Stop The World – a 4yo horse we bought privately after he finished second in what we hope was a good Irish point to point. He came from Sean Doyle, the same person that we bought The Worlds End off and hope he will be as good as him and he is being trained by Tom George.

The Butcher Said – a 4yo horse we bought from the Punchestown Sale after finishing runner up in one of the big bumpers there. He is in training with Warren and the form of his bumper does seem quite strong so we are hopeful he does well.

What advice would you give anyone looking to invest in Race horses?

Look to spread your risk and buy a few horses in small shares to begin with because, unfortunately, there are plenty of times when horses don’t make it to the track for one reason or another. I think it also helps having them in different yards in case there is a virus in one yard it does not mean all your horses are affected. 

Favourite horse owned

We debated this at home last night between the four of us and it is impossible to narrow it down to one. I would upset one of the family if I named one so would rather just say we have been very fortunate to own some nice horses and it’s like asking, “Which of my children is my favourite” or “Who do the kids like best out of Mum and Dad!”

 Best day on a racecourse?
Aintree is a course where we have had a lot of luck and success so it would be one of them days. It is such a great place to visit and the locals really help make the meeting so pick one of Walkon, Grumeti or The Worlds End

What does the future hold racing wise for the family?

Over the summer after buying some more horses to be spread between more trainers we decided we wanted to work with a jockey to help us with our racing operation. With that in mid we will be using Adrian Heskin to ride all our horses with Warren Greatrex when he is not required to ride by Tom George. He will also be riding out at other yards where we have horses. We obviously achieved a lot of success with Adrian last season and hopefully can achieve a lot more both this season and in the future.Despite only working together for a few months we are benefiting from his help with buying of new horses and helping us get the best results from our existing team. It is much easier to make a decision when you have someone familiar with all the horses and able to give an independent view on how they all compare.

I would like to thank Max & The Mcneill Family for their help with this. It is a real pleasure to present this in conjunction with the family, their knowledge & passion is clear for all to see.