Northern Ireland wonder horse Killultagh Vic on course for Cheltenham gold two years after devastating injury
Meet the wonder horse that's set to take part in Cheltenham's blue riband race.
Co Down-bred racehorse Killultagh Vic - sidelined by serious injuries for nearly two years - has been tipped for Gold Cup glory on Friday thanks to the efforts of a Crossgar trainer.
Colin McBratney, from the village of Raffrey, helped to rebuild Killultagh Vic's career after the nine-year-old horse cracked his pelvis and suffered suspensory ligament damage two years ago.
The injuries could have meant the end of the horse's days on the racecourse, but he has made a remarkable recovery - and is now a favourite for this year's festival.
"I broke him as a three-year-old around five years ago and ran him in a point-to-point at Largy where he finished third," said Colin. "I think there was a Grand National winner behind him that day. He then went to Willie (Mullins) and at that age, he was already showing a lot of potential."
Since then, Killultagh Vic has been under the watchful eye of trainer Mullins.
He finished sixth in the Cheltenham Festival Champion bumper race in 2014.
"He was just a natural athlete with a strong constitution," added Colin. "A horse with raw ability. He was home-bred with great pedigree and racing was always the future for him."
However, this was cast into doubt when the gelding suffered two major injuries after spectacularly winning a novice chase. The horse was out of action between January 2016 and December last year.
"He won a race at Cheltenham and then at a grade one in Punchestown, then the injuries happened in late 2015. He came back to me and we had to build him up. It was like starting all over again but the aim was to always get him back to racing."
Killultagh Vic is owned by Marie Armstrong, Boyce Anderson and Shortcross Gin maker, Rose Boyd. During the setback, Colin kept the horse's owners and Mullins up to date with its progress.
"We took our time with him, walking the roads and gradually working on getting him stronger, always with fingers crossed. The pre-training also involved cantering and schooling, as well as building the muscle by going harder and faster each month.
"I thought it would be a much longer process, but everything came together very quickly."
With just two days to go until one of the most watched races of the year, Colin's hard-work in the horse's formative years appears to be paying off.
"I didn't think he would be in contention for the Gold Cup this year, maybe next year, although he did his first racecourse gallop for me in early November and it was electric. You were holding your breath each time you did something faster with him, hoping he'd be okay the next morning, but everything was positive from day one with him." Veteran jockey Ruby Walsh looks set to be the man to try and guide Killultagh Vic to victory in this year's showpiece event.
Colin said: "I spoke to Ruby Walsh at the Down Royal Festival and he was asking me how Killultagh Vic was. I told Ruby what I was doing with him and he said he could be a Gold Cup horse. I said if that's the case then I'll send him back to Willie.
"So I did that in mid-November and in his first hurdle race for him, he won."
Colin appreciates the praise he has received in shaping the horse's career, but is keen to say it's been a team effort.
"I could never have got him to the level Willie Mullins has, but it's great to be involved.
"It's a privilege to work with a horse of that calibre. To have a home-bred horse win a Gold Cup would be fantastic."
As for Killultagh Vic's chances of parading in the winner's enclosure come 4pm on Friday, Colin is quietly confident.
"He is a live contender, he's not just making up numbers."