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Festival Novices' Chase Ante-Post Preview: More to come from Monkfish

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Posted in: Cheltenham Festival News

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Timeform's John Ingles look ahead to the 2021 Festival Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and picks out the best bet.

A key race to the outcome of the Festival Novices’ Chase, formerly the RSA, could well be the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Festival. It proved a closely-fought contest, with the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish showing a good attitude to rally for a neck win over the Paul Nolan-trained Latest Exhibition. Both horses went into the race having won their last two starts, but while Latest Exhibition had already won a Grade 1 novice at Leopardstown, Monkfish was taking a big step up in class.

Both Monkfish and Latest Exhibition made successful starts to their chasing careers in the autumn, and their paths crossed again in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novices’ Chase at Leopardstown at the end of December. The betting was more one-sided this time, Monkfish starting at 1/2, and there was a bit more between them – three lengths – but they served up another cracking finish in pulling right away from the other two finishers, the gutsy Latest Exhibition challenging two out before Monkfish asserted after the last. Monkfish looks the type to go on improving, and he looks tailor-made for this race for which he is a worthy favourite ahead of Latest Exhibition.

On his previous start, Latest Exhibition had been beaten seven lengths by the Gordon Elliott-trained Pencilfulloflead in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Novices’ Chase at Punchestown. Pencilfulloflead had been lightly raced over hurdles and has made into a smart novice over fences, probably best forgiven his subsequent defeat to the Willie Mullins-trained mare Colreevy in the Grade 1 Faugheen Novices’ Chase at Limerick last time when dropping back in trip. He remains open to improvement when his stamina is tested more fully and has each-way claims at 16/1. The one unknown about him is how he’d cope with a sounder surface, having raced almost exclusively on heavy ground so far.

Mullins was the former trainer of Next Destination, now with Paul Nicholls and the best chance of keeping the prize at home according to the betting. Third to Samcro in the 2018 Ballymore for his former yard before beating Delta Work at Punchestown, Next Destination has had to make a belated start to his chasing career after more than two years off the track, but is now two from two over fences. Both of those wins have come in Grade 2 contests, at Newbury and Warwick, and he responded well in the closing stages when conceding weight to Fiddlerontheroof in the Hampton Novices’ Chase last time.

However, the National Hunt Chase looks a suitable alternative for Next Destination which could leave Fiddlerontheroof’s stablemate The Big Breakaway as the leading British hope, trained by Colin Tizzard. He was beaten for the first time when fourth to Envoi Allen in the Ballymore at last year’s Festival but returned to Cheltenham in November when making a perfect start to his chasing career stepped up to three miles for the first time. The Big Breakaway has found one too good in both starts since but has had excuses both times, and could yet fulfil the promise of his chasing debut before the Festival.

A shorter trip at Exeter when beaten at long odds on didn’t suit him, while he still found things happening a bit quickly when runner-up to Shan Blue (goes for the Marsh instead) in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton back over three miles. A still stiffer test and a slower tempo are likely to see an improvement in The Big Breakaway’s jumping.

If The Cap Fits was one of the best hurdlers to go chasing this season and made a winning debut over fences at Ffos Las when beating Fiddlerontheroof, but he hasn’t looked a natural over the larger obstacles and was tailed off at one stage in the Kauto Star before staying on for third near the finish.

Among the rest at longer odds, Andy Dufresne, representing JP McManus and Gordon Elliott, has shown smart form but also has an entry in the Marsh and has yet to race at much beyond two miles so far this season, though will be suited by the return to further. He made it two out of two over fences in the Klairon Davis Novices’ Chase at Navan last time. Another McManus possible among the outsiders is the lightly-raced Dickie Diver for Nicky Henderson who made a promising chasing debut after a lengthy absence when chasing home Paint The Dream from well off the pace in a novices’ handicap at Newbury.

Monkfish is taken to keep his unbeaten record over fences and win at the Festival for the second year running, while Pencilfulloflead looks one of his most interesting rivals, having given a bigger beating to Latest Exhibition at Punchestown than Monkfish did himself last time.


Back Monkfish at 15/8 to win the Festival Novices’ Chase


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