Monkfish, ridden by Paul Townend, had enough about him to win the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham as the 1/4 favourite did what was expected of him and will now target the Gold Cup glory next year.
It was a far from perfect performance from Willie Mullins’ horse, who didn’t jump with as much consistency as usual but still had enough in the tank to finish comfortably ahead of second placed Fiddlerontheroof and third placed The Big Breakaway.
That win made it two from two for the punters as the favourite in the first, Bob Olinger, also won his race. Irish trainer Mullins made it 74 Cheltenham Festival wins on St Patrick’s Day but described this one as “heartstopping” as Monkfish looked unsettled the majority of the way around. “I don’t want to go through that again, it was probably the most nerve-racking race I have ever watched,” said Mullins.
Usually so reliant on his incredible jumping and rangy stride, the winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle last year at Cheltenham led from the front, but it was anything but easy work across the 3m 1/2f circuit. In the six-horse field, the seven-year-old didn’t deal particularly well with any of the 19 jumps, but stayed on his feet to secure victory for the relieved duo of Townend and Mullins.
"It wasn’t perfect today, but it was enough,” the winning jockey told ITV.
"I was a bit relieved, early on in the race we weren’t on the same wavelength. It’s a lot of pressure riding these fancied horses. Don’t get me wrong, I know how lucky I am to ride them, but you have to perform on them."
The Big Breakaway was vying for the lead alongside Monkfish for the opening half of the race, with Eklat De Rire sitting comfortably in third. The favourite seemed to look uncomfortable approaching the jumps, taking extra strides which would have had his backers at home hiding behind the couch.
Rachael Blackmore, having ridden the winner in the first, was unseated by Eklat De Rire with seven fences to go and although she took a short while to get to her feet, both her and the horse looked okay. In fact, it was Eklat De Rire who caused added difficulties for Monkfish, taking the lead and jumping alongside Monkfish as he approached the finishing post.
40/1 outsider Fiddlerontheroof put in a calm display, following in third the entire way around before surpassing The Big Breakaway, who finished third, but looked to have put too much effort into staying with Monkfish as the favourite pulled away.
In winning for Willie Mullins, Monkfish keeps up an impressive record for odds-on favourites at Cheltenham in Grade 1 Races. Since 2003, seven horses have set off at odds-on for a Grade One novice chase at the Festival in that time and all seven came home in front, including Shishkin in Tuesday’s Arkle. Monkfish was shorter than all of those bar Douvan and Altior in the Arkle in 2016 and 2017 respectively and just about coped with the pressure to come home first.
For Monkfish, talk of a 2022 Gold Cup win has already begun.