Monkfish just too strong for Latest Exhibition again

Monkfish again outdid his old rival Latest Exhibition in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown.

There was very little between the pair when Monkfish just prevailed in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, and they dominated the finish in this Grade One too.

Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition arrived on the back of a slightly disappointing defeat in Grade Two company last time out, having won on his chasing debut, but he did have the benefit of one extra run over fences.

Monkfish took over the running just after halfway for Paul Townend – and just as he had on his chasing bow, jumped with aplomb.

However, while at one stage it looked like he may just pull further clear, Bryan Cooper moved Latest Exhibition up alongside him on the run to the second last.

There was nothing between them as they raced at full pelt around the final bend and approached the last fence – and both met it on a decent stride.

After the last Monkfish (1-2 favourite) just had a bit more speed, though, and Willie Mullins’ giant pulled three lengths clear as the champion trainer registered yet another notable Christmas success.

The winner was trimmed to 15-8 from 11-4 for the three-mile Grade One at Cheltenham in March.

“It was a very good performance from a horse having his second run over fences, to take on more experienced rivals at a Grade One track. I was very pleased with that,” said Mullins.

“It didn’t seem to be a problem – even when he was meeting one wrong, he shortened himself. He seems to be a natural over fences.

“There was a lot of pressure on him going to the last, with Latest Exhibition -who has a bit more experience than him. He pulled himself together, fought his way over it, and he just had a little bit in reserve.

“I’d imagine we’ll look at the Flogas Chase. We’ll focus on that first – and if all goes well we can look at Cheltenham after that.”

Exciting Monkfish primed for festive action at Leopardstown

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.

Monkfish is already a Cheltenham Festival winner
Monkfish is already a Cheltenham Festival winner (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“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.

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“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.

Asterion Forlonge is poised for festive action
Asterion Forlonge is poised for festive action (Niall Carson/PA)

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.”

Klassical Dream could return to action at Leopardstown
Klassical Dream could return to action at Leopardstown (Niall Carson/PA)

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.”

Christmas options for exciting Monkfish

Monkfish has options at Limerick and Leopardstown over Christmas following an almost faultless chasing debut last weekend.

Winner of the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in March for Willie Mullins, he always looked the type that would head straight over fences.

The six-year-old had no trouble in landing short odds at Fairyhouse and holds entries in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Faugheen Novice Steeplechase at Limerick and the Neville Hotels Novice Steeplechase over three miles at Leopardstown.

“He’s come out of the race very well and we’d always hoped given his size, his point-to-point background and his pedigree that he would make a chaser,” owner Rich Ricci’s racing manager Joe Chambers told the Nick Luck Daily Podcast.

“He did nothing at Fairyhouse to make us think otherwise, but he’ll have to come forward and step up again because the novice chasing pool is quite deep at the moment.

“It looks as though everybody wants to avoid Shishkin and Envoi Allen and they’re all going to have to gather in at some distance at some point.

“He’ll run somewhere at Christmas, either at Limerick in the Grade One or at Leopardstown, and we’ll see how we get on.”

He added: “We’re obviously hugely excited, I know Paul (Townend) is hugely excited as well.

“His schooling had gone well, I think he made one small mistake (at Fairyhouse), but he was pretty good in the main, he’s got a lovely way of going for such a tall horse.”

Monkfish cruises to debut chase victory

Monkfish made an impressive start over fences as he strolled to victory in the Jim Ryan Racecourse Services Beginners Chase at Fairyhouse.

Winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, Willie Mullins’ charge was sent off the 1-3 favourite to make a winning debut in chase company.

Paul Townend had him settled in third as Sams Profile set the early gallop, with Monkfish travelling and jumping well throughout before moving to the front with a couple of fences to go.

Monkfish just had to be kept up to his work by Townend, with stablemate Ontheropes trying his best to make a race of it, but he was ultimately well held in finishing a four-length second, with Sams Profile a further seven and a half lengths back in third.

Monkfish and Paul Townend following their Fairyhouse victory
Monkfish and Paul Townend following their Fairyhouse victory (Alan Magee/PA)

Paddy Power cut Monkfish to 9-2 from 8-1 for the three-mile Grade One novices’ chase at the Cheltenham Festival, formerly run as the RSA Chase.

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Townend said: “You couldn’t ask for more. He missed the ditch where I gave him a squeeze and he changed his mind, but you couldn’t ask for any better the whole way around.

“I gave him one squeeze down to the last and he picked up well. He’s very good.”

Mullins added: “Monkfish was very impressive. Paul was pleased with him and I had to be as well. He’ll aim for Christmas.

“He’s grown up a lot since he was beaten over hurdles here about a year ago. His jumping was very accurate and it looks like fences will be his job.”

Hook Up was also on the mark for Mullins and Townend
Hook Up was also on the mark for Mullins and Townend (Niall Carson/PA)

Mullins and Townend enjoyed a hat-trick on the day with Concertista (6-4 favourite) landing the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Hurdle while Hook Up (10-11 favourite) impressed with a 12-length verdict in the first division of the Kettles Country House Supporting Fingal Ravens GAA Maiden Hurdle.

The second division of the two-mile affair went to Keskonrisk (6-5 favourite), who was a £370,000 purchase for owner Michael Grech back in January.

Now in the care of Joseph O’Brien, the five-year-old got up in the dying strides to prevail by a head for JJ Slevin.

Keskonrisk was an expensive purchase
Keskonrisk was an expensive purchase (Niall Carson/PA)

Brendan Powell, O’Brien’s assistant, said: “Henrietta Knight bought him for Mike (Grech) and he’s a lovely horse.

“JJ said he’s a great traveller and when he asked him to pick up it took him a while, but he does have a turn of foot. A faster run race would probably suit him.

“He’s ground it out well in the end and has won going away. He’s one to look forward to, as he hasn’t put a foot wrong the whole way around and he’ll jump a fence.”

Slevin was in the wars later on the card though, falling from Curious Times at the first in the Irish Racing Industry Fundraiser For Children’s Health Foundation Crumlin Handicap Hurdle, bringing down Desire De Joie.

The IHRB’s senior medical officer Dr Jennifer Pugh said: “JJ Slevin has been taken to Blanchardstown Hospital for precautionary x-rays on a rib injury following his fall in race seven. Jack Kennedy is fine having been brought down in the same incident.”

Monkfish primed for chase debut at Fairyhouse

Albert Bartlett winner Monkfish makes his eagerly-awaited debut over fences in the Jim Ryan Racecourse Services Beginners Chase at Fairyhouse.

The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old prevailed in a three-way battle at the Cheltenham Festival, from Latest Exhibition and Fury Road, in one of the best finishes of this year’s showpiece meeting.

Monkfish always looked a chaser in the making – and Mullins, who has his string in red-hot form as usual, is excited about his return in Saturday’s opener.

“He jumps well enough at home – and all our novices this season have been jumping well,” he told Racing TV.

“I’m looking forward to getting him out.”

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Mullins’ great rival Gordon Elliott is likely to field the strongest opposition, this time in the shape of Escaria Ten.

Unplaced in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham, Elliott is keen to see what he can do over staying trips this season.

“He’s a lovely type of horse who looks as though he will be at his best as a staying chaser, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do this season,” he said.

“He showed a nice level of ability on his first four runs last season, and I thought that he ran better than his final position would suggest in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham on his most recent start.

“He’s a little later starting off than some of our novice chasers, and I think he will come on plenty for both this run and a longer trip, but I’d still be expecting a solid showing from him. This does look a hot enough race, though.”

Noel Meade’s Diol Ker, who beat Monkfish over hurdles last season, and the Mouse Morris-trained Sams Profile – second in two Grade One novice hurdles in 2019 but a faller on his first run for 566 days – are also among the 11 runners.

Mullins’ Concertista, a 12-length winner of the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, faces Henry de Bromhead’s Minella Melody in the Grade Two Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Hurdle.

Concertista was one of the easiest winners at the Cheltenham Festival
Concertista was one of the easiest winners at the Cheltenham Festival (Simon Cooper/PA)

Elliott’s Queens Brook steps up in class, having been defeated in Grade Three company last time out.

“I’m looking forward to running her again and I’m really interested to see how she gets on against some quality and more experienced mares,” Elliott told Betfair.

“In terms of her season so far, I was happy with her first run over hurdles when she only just won but needed that run badly. She then went to Down Royal a few weeks later when she showed she had improved plenty from her comeback run, but she was just touched off late on.

“Ideally she would prefer further than two miles and ideally I’d prefer if I had a bit more time between her first and second runs – so in hindsight I was pleased with her Down Royal run and I’m certain there is more to come from her, especially at this trip.

“She’s a lovely mare who is going well, and I could see her showing up well despite her lack of experience.”

De Bromhead’s Paloma Blue heads the weights in the 40,000 euro Easyfix Equine Handicap Chase – in which Joseph O’Brien’s Us And Them, second in the 2019 Arkle, also lines up.