Monkfish is set to be one of the headline acts as Willie Mullins prepares to unleash a formidable bunch of novice chasers over Christmas.
The Rich Ricci-owned six-year-old landed the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and made the perfect start to his chasing career with victory at Fairyhouse in November, winning in a canter.
He is likely to be seen in the Grade One Neville Hotels Novice Chase on the final day of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival.
Speaking on call to launch the showpiece fixture, which gets under way on December 26, assistant trainer Patrick Mullins said: “He put in a fabulous performance at Fairyhouse.
“He’s a very tall horse and when he came to the yard he was very light so we didn’t get him out until Punchestown in his bumper season. We just couldn’t get him strong and get condition on him.
“We ran in a big field and every time there was a gap he backed out of it so we ended up a little bit far back and had to come around. We got beaten by a good horse in Longhouse Poet.
“Then he got beaten first time last season and we were scratching our heads a bit thinking he maybe wasn’t the horse we thought he was, but he just improved every run after that.
“He won his maiden, then won by 20 lengths down in Thurles and we were wondering did the race fall apart.
“In Cheltenham, what I loved about him, was that when it got tight at the last he put his head down and went into the gap – he’s maturing and learning how to race.
“This year we’re having no problem keeping condition on him. He looks great, good and strong.
“Three miles is obviously no bother to him. We’d be disappointed if he got beaten, but we’ve been disappointed before!”
Blackbow, Energumene and Asterion Forlonge are among the other novice chasers lined up for festive action.
Mullins junior said: “It’s definitely the most depth I can remember us having in the novice chase division.
“Blackbow and Energumene look like they are going to be far superior chasers than they were hurdlers.
“Asterion Forlonge is a Grade One-winning novice hurdler who has now gone over fences.
“We were very disappointed with The Big Getaway (at Navan), but I wouldn’t give up on him just next.
“Janidil is another one that I think will make a superior chaser than hurdler so we’re very excited for the novice chasers.”
The Racing Post Novice Chase is the highlight of the opening day’s action at Leopardstown, and Mullins has nine in the two-mile-one-furlong contest.
Asterion Forlonge is among the big names among the entries, but he could be aimed at the Grade One Faugheen Novice Chase in Limerick on the same day.
Mullins went on: “He was very impressive in Punchestown. He jumps great, he came from Pat Doyle’s and he does a fantastic job with them.
“When he’s jumping down our strip he’s slightly to his right, but nothing terrible. He seemed to jump pretty straight all the way in Punchestown until the last two when he did go right when he was going a stride faster.
“That is going to be something in the back of our minds. He obviously did it quite severely in Cheltenham where you are continually turning down the back straight and nearly always going left. That probably exaggerates it.
“I’d imagine he’ll probably go to Limerick which is right-handed. That’s two and a half miles which is probably more up his street. That would be the most obvious choice for him.
“Energumene was very eyecatching in Gowran. He’s not a horse you would really thought was a two-mile chaser, but Paul (Townend) said it from the first time he schooled him – that the way he jumps he probably can come back in trip and be effective.
“He’s very clever over fences and even though he might not be as quick as some of the other horses, the way he jumps he’s very effective.
“Blackbow was a very good bumper horse, he disappointed over hurdles but seems to be electric over his fences.
“He was an English point-to-pointer, which we’ve had good luck with.
“He likes to get on with it and jumps very fluently.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he or Unexcepted or Energumene ended up as Arkle horses, but they are going to have to step up to Grade One form and prove that they are that level.”
Mullins also had news of last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Klassical Dream, who has not been seen since finishing last of five in the Matheson Hurdle at the Leopardstown fixture last Christmas.
He said: “We’ve schooled Klassical Dream a few times at home and Paul is very happy with him.
“He seems to respect fences a bit more than he did hurdles. I’m not sure what got into him last year when he just started throwing himself at hurdles in Punchestown and Leopardstown.
“He’ll probably go for a beginners’ chase in Leopardstown.”