Steve Murrills, owner of Empire De Maulde (FR)
8bg Spanish Moon – Ondine De Brejoux (Murmure)
Trainer: James Ewart
Breeder: S C E A De Maulde

Background: Improving staying chaser relishes good ground and having finished a fine third to Yala Enki and The Mighty Don in a Grade 3 contest at Cheltenham in November, looks an ideal candidate for the Scottish National in April

 How did you come to own the horse?

My wife Jessica and I have been owners with James Ewart for about ten years, but we made a bit of a misstep when we moved a horse to another trainer, which didn’t work out. We stayed on friendly terms though, and I called James after seeing Empire De Maulde on television winning a handicap hurdle at Doncaster and seeing to my surprise on his website that he was for sale. He wasn’t cheap by our standards, and we were originally only going to take 50%, but we ended up with 95%, with James retaining the remainder.

What has been your journey so far?

Empire De Maulde’s first season for us, as a novice chaser, was a bit of a washout, as he ran only twice and was unplaced both times. But he’s a fine, big horse who clearly had the ability, and we learned a valuable lesson from Brian Hughes who told us not to run him again on soft ground. We’ve avoided it where possible since, and he won first time out the following season at Hexham, which owing to Covid restrictions was the one time we haven’t been able to go. He’s won another three since, including the valuable Edinburgh Gin Chase at Kelso in October, and we were also very happy with his third to Yala Enki at Cheltenham, since when he has been having a break and avoiding winter ground,

Which targets do you have in mind?

When he won at Kelso, James mentioned the Scottish National, and that’s still where we are probably heading. Although Empire De Maulde had the speed to win four bumpers in France, James has been convinced all along that he would stay well, and while Cheltenham left a niggling doubt about extreme distances we think he’ll have every chance of staying four miles on a flat, galloping track like Ayr – so long as it’s decent ground. He won’t have a Grand National entry this time, but he looks as if he would jump those big fences and it might be a possibility one day. He’s still only eight.

How would you describe your relationship with your trainer?

Jessica and I get on very well with James and Bryony and we’ve had quite a close relationship over the last 12 months. James is honest and straightforward and a good communicator, so it works well. If I spot a race that might suit, he’s always happy to talk about it, and I value being able to have that sort of input. At the same time, if there’s a little hiccup, we’ll soon hear about it. It’s an excellent relationship.

What would encourage you to increase your ownership involvement?

We’ve both been retired for five or six years and so cash is the main thing stopping us getting more involved. We’ve put all of our eggs in one basket with Empire De Maulde and we’ve been very lucky as he’s picked up some nice races and is more than paying his way.

Looking at the broader picture, prizemoney is definitely an issue. I don’t like to tempt fate, but we might ask James to reinvest for us if he got lucky in a big one down the line.