Monkfish and Latest Exhibition lock horns for a third time in the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
The Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish defeated Paul Nolan’s stable star Latest Exhibition by a neck when the pair filled the first two places in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival.
The pair renewed rivalry in a Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown over Christmas – and on that occasion, Monkfish ran out a more authoritative three-length winner.
They do battle once more on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival, with Mullins not expecting that a drop in trip from three miles to an extended two miles and five furlongs will prove a problem for his charge.
“It was a good tussle with Latest Exhibition at Christmas. They have a little history together, and there’s never much between them,” said the champion trainer.
“The way Monkfish jumps, I don’t think coming back in trip will bother him, and the ground will be more testing as well.
“It’s a Grade One and it’s huge prize money, (so) we have to go there.”
Monkfish is one of three Mullins-trained runners in a nine-strong field on Sunday, with Asterion Forlonge and Janidil also declared.
Asterion Forlonge won a Grade One novice hurdle at this meeting last year, but returns with plenty to prove following successive falls over fences at Limerick and Punchestown, while Janidil failed to run up to expectations in the same Limerick race in late December.
Mullins added: “I’ve wondered about different ways of riding Asterion Forlonge that might negate him going right. There’s an argument to keep him to right-handed tracks – but sometimes if you don’t ask the question, you don’t get the answer either.
“It is a Grade One, so if you miss it you can’t pick one up the following week. I think he was just going too slow last time at Punchestown.
“I was disappointed with Janidil in Limerick. I’m not sure the real heavy ground suited him – he might want a nicer surface.”
Nolan is delighted with Latest Exhibition ahead of his latest big-race assignment, saying: “He had a tough race against Monkfish the last day, but we couldn’t be happier with him – he did a piece of work earlier in the week, and we were extremely happy.
“I don’t think the shorter trip will be an inconvenience to him. If he runs as well as he did at Christmas, please God he’ll put it up to everything again.”
Gordon Elliott fires a twin assault, with Andy Dufresne joined by his lesser-fancied stablemate Conflated.
“Andy Dufresne is taking a big step up in class here and he is going to have to be at his very best, but I could see him running a big race,” Elliott told Betfair.
“Conflated struggled behind Monkfish last time and looks to be up against it once more – but I’m not convinced he was at his best that day, and the three-mile trip might have stretched him too.”
Mullins has saddled seven of the last eight winners of the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle – and this year has strong favourite Appreciate It joined by five stable companions.
The market leader was a hugely impressive winner over the course and distance last time, and already heads ante-post lists for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Reflecting on his Christmas success, Mullins said: “I wasn’t sure whether he could be that good – but he was more than I thought he was, the performance he put in.
“I was thinking about going up in trip at the start of the season. If we’d been going for the two-mile-six race this weekend it wouldn’t have surprised me, which is why I was hugely taken with his last performance.”
Blue Lord, N’golo, Galopin Des Champs, Mr Coldstone and Hook Up complete the Mullins sextet – while Elliott is represented by Ballyadam, Wide Receiver and Magic Tricks.
Ballyadam was rated the biggest threat to Appreciate It in December, having won the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse, but was ultimately well beaten in fourth place.
“Ballyadam did not run well here at Christmas time, so he is coming here on a retrieval mission,” said Elliott.
“I’m happy enough to put a line through his run at Christmas, because he never looked happy and didn’t finish out his race at all.
“Hopefully he will do much better here, but I’m under no illusions about the task facing him because this does look like a high-quality edition of this race.”
The first of four Grade Ones on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival is the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle, in which Elliott’s Quilixios puts his unbeaten record on the line.
“He’s a lovely horse, and I’ve been delighted with what he has shown on his two runs for us this season,” said the Cullentra handler.
“He is taking a major rise in class for this, but we are lucky enough to have some good juveniles in the yard to measure him by, and I think he is up to holding his own at this level.”
Mullins runs three against Quilixios in Ha D’or, Saint Sam and Youmdor, and appears to hold all the aces in the concluding N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares I.N.H. Flat Race – with five of the 11 runners hailing from Closutton.
The trainer’s son Patrick has sided with Brandy Love over Brooklynn Glory (Barry O’Neill), Purple Mountain (Tom Hamilton), Take Tea (Derek O’Connor) and Grangee (Jody Townend).
Summing up their chances, Mullins senior said: “Brooklynn Glory has won twice and been very good both times; Purple Mountain is good, but I’m worried about the ground for her, and Take Tea was very impressive in Naas – and the second has come out and won since.
“Brandy Love was hugely impressive in Fairyhouse. Grangee probably won’t be suited by the ground, but where else do I go? She’s not the biggest mare – and 11st 7lb in this, rather than 12st 7lb in a mares’ bumper, is much better for her.
“I think Brooklynn, Take Tea and Brandy Love have been hugely impressive, but I’m as inquisitive as everyone to find out which one is best.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a group of mares this strong before.”
The big danger appears to be Hollymount – who makes her first start for Elliott, having recently been snapped up for £300,000.
Elliott said: “Hollymount came to us just last week after being bought from Stuart Crawford’s yard following an impressive bumper win at Carlisle a couple of months ago.
“She is taking a huge rise in class here and she’s a mare we are just getting to know, but I can say that she has settled in well and I could see her showing up well in what looks a top class mares’ bumper.”