Cheltenham Festival one-two Monkfish and Latest Exhibition renew rivalry in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Tuesday.
The Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish got the better of Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition by a neck in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the showpiece meeting in March, with the high-class pair of Fury Road and Thyme Hill close-up in third and fourth.
Monkfish made an impressive start to his career over regulation fences at Fairyhouse last month and he will be a hot favourite to follow up at Grade One level on the fourth and final day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “He was the leading staying novice hurdler last year and we think fences have improved him.
“Latest Exhibition is a very good horse, but we’ll probably be disappointed if Monkfish can’t continue his upward trajectory.”
Latest Exhibition made a successful chasing debut at Punchestown in October, but proved no match for Pencilfulloflead when odds on for a Grade Two contest at the same venue on his latest outing.
The winner did the form no harm when narrowly beaten in a Grade One at Limerick on Saturday, however, and Nolan hopes his stable star will be seen in a better light on the forecast better ground at Leopardstown.
“Hopefully he’ll run well – we couldn’t be happier with him,” said the Enniscorthy-based trainer.
“It will be very hard to beat Willie’s horse. He looks like he’s better over fences than he was over hurdles and he’s already beaten us over hurdles in Cheltenham.
“I don’t want to see a lot more rain, but the ground is not going to be as heavy as it was in Punchestown anyway, so he should be fine.
“The favourite will be hard to beat, but we’re there with a fighting chance. I just hope he jumps well and runs a nice race.”
Gordon Elliott has landed this prize in each of the past three seasons and is this year represented by Conflated.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding was placed behind Darver Star and Asterion Forlonge on his first two chase starts before making it third time lucky with a 17-length verdict at Navan.
Elliott told Betfair: “It’s going to be interesting to see how Conflated gets on over three miles as he has never gone beyond two and a half. To me he shapes like a horse that could improve over further and I’m really looking forward to running him.
“I thought he was very good at Navan last time, when he seemed to enjoy the switch back to a left-handed track. If he turns up here in the same sort of form, I could see him running a big race, although Monkfish is going to be hard to beat.”
Eurobot (Noel Meade), Foxy Jacks (Mouse Morris) and Heaven Help Us (Paul Hennessy) complete the line-up.