2021 Cheltenham Festival – Can Anyone Beat Special Talent Monkfish in Festival Novice Chase?

2021 Festival Novice Chase Tips

The race formerly known as the RSA Chase is the latest Cheltenham contest to be analysed by Lewis Tomlinson. The race forms part of a superb day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival and features yet another big Irish hope

Festival Novice Chase Overview

All three of the 2020 Festivals’ Grade 1 winning novice hurdlers started this season as ante-post favourites for the corresponding novice chases at the 2021 Festival, and all three remain at the top the perch for the market.

Key Contenders – Monkfish

Monkfish is the most generously priced of the trio, but there’s every reason to be confident he can become the first horse since Bobs Worth in 2012 to follow up an Albert Bartlett victory with further triumph in the race formerly known as the RSA.

I was a huge fan of Monkfish as a novice hurdler ahead of his Festival success last year, with the main worry whether he was too much of a raw chasing type and would be left vulnerable to those with a little bit more hurdling zip. Those fears were left unfounded, though, and he showed ample guts to compliment his talent to bravely battle back in front after being briefly headed on the run in.

Monkfish’s chasing debut came in one of the deepest beginners chases of the season- the four who chased him home had all achieved ratings of 135 or higher over hurdles- but Willie Mullins’ star cantered home as if he had just been on a steady morning jog. The fourth length winning margin may well have been forty such was his clear superiority to a bunch of decent rivals, so it was no surprise when he landed odds of 1-2 to gain a first Grade 1 victory over fences when looking equally as stylish in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting.

A return to Leopardstown for the Flogas last weekend saw his most destructive performance yet, his remorseless front-running gallop and foot-perfect jumping an utter joy to behold as a racing fan. Paul Townend was hands-and-heels as Monkfish extended further and further up the Leopardstown home straight, a perfect end to one of the most perfect performances from a novice chaser you may ever be likely to see. He’s an old-fashioned brute of a staying chaser, but pacy enough to carry his imposing frame in the manner of a true athlete, may well be the one to beat in the Gold Cup in 2022.

Latest Exhibition

Clearly a very decent racehorse and has many admirable qualities, certainly sound in terms of attitude and constitution, but trainer Paul Nolan must be utterly sick of the sight of Monkfish by now.

Latest Exhibition has been denied top level three times by the big chestnut – by a neck in the Albert Bartlett, three lengths in the Neville Hotels and by eleven in the Flogas. Latest Exhibition looked a little bit more forward than Monkfish as a novice hurdler, and his old rival has increased the degree of superiority over him every time they’ve met. It would take a cold man to knock the reliability and enthusiasm of this horse but, sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your best might not quite good enough – yes, I am taking bookings as a motivational speaker – and Latest Exhibition looks likely to be playing for bridesmaid once again.

The Big Breakaway

The Christmas Grade 1 on this side of the Irish Sea, Kempton’s Kauto Star Chase, was won by Shan Blue, who is bound for the Marsh. Runner-up The Big Breakaway comes here though, and I think he’s overpriced from an each-way perspective.

The Big Breakaway does a lot wrong and is still clearly a work in progress, but I can see Colin Tizzard’s horse running his best race of the season here. He’s a strange beast, an awkward, lolloping galloper who puts in a poor leap for every decent one, but he’s blessed with a remarkable natural engine and would likely have gotten the better of Shan Blue at Kempton if his jumping held up on the home straight.

Cheltenham should suit him far better and I can envisage him running in a similar manner to Champ’s winning performance last season, losing half-lengths here and there via sloppy and tentative jumps before regaining the ground lost back up the hill

Next Destination

Next Destination’s success for Paul Nicholls has been one of the more pleasant stories of the season, and he also merits respect following two wins over fences. After two and a half years off the track with injury, it’s been heartwarming to see that Next Destination still retains the majority of his ability from his dual Grade 1 winning novice hurdling days.

He’s a likeable chaser as well, an accurate jumper and one who knuckles down gamely when asked to. His performances against a lower calibre of opposition than this field have been workmanlike rather than extraordinary, though, and I worry whether he’ll just be vulnerable to an opponent with a few more gears or a higher cruising speed. I find it hard to see him winning this, but I will be keeping half an eye on him for the Ladbrokes Trophy next season, for which I think he looks ideal.

Eklat De Rire has still only had four starts under rules but he’s quickly made up into a smart type and probably had more in hand when winning his Navan Grade 3 than the length-and-three-quarter winning margin suggested. That race was on heavy ground, and Eklat De Rire looks as if he’s at his happiest when the mud is flying. Monkfish is quick for a staying chaser, and I can’t see where the pace Eklat De Rire will need to replicate his front-running tactics will come from.

The De Bromhead team may need to rethink strategy, or hope they utilise his stamina strong suit by picking up pieces from the rear. Pencilfulloflead (14-1) was let down by a poor round of jumping in the third and won’t be able to make the same mistakes at Cheltenham.

It’s also worth mentioning Royale Pagaille (8-1), who has one of his many Festival entries here, but the presence of Monkfish in the same ownership surely makes it likely that he’ll take up another option.

Festival Novice Chase Big-Race Verdict

Monkfish looks every inch a future Gold Cup horse and he could probably afford to regress slightly from his freakish performance at the Dublin Racing Festival and still take this. A special talent.