Willie Mullins described Monkfish’s victory in the Grade One Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase as “the most nerve wracking race I’ve ever watched”.
The seven year old has earned himself quotes of 9/2 for next year’s WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup after winning at The Festival for a second successive year, following his victory in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ hurdle 12 months ago.
But Mullins, who was winning the race for a record fifth time, admitted it was a far from comfortable watch and attributed a small field to the lack of concentration his 1/4 favourite showed as the race unfolded.
Despite a mistake at the last, Monkfish came home a comfortable six and a half lengths clear of Fiddlerintheroof. And Mullins said: “I think it’s the most nerve wracking race I’ve ever watched – 1/4 on in a three mile chase around Cheltenham is not great for the ticker, especially the way he jumped the last as he did.
“Chatting to Paul (Townend) he said he was idling on the first circuit as he was watching the Jeep with the camera and the men at the hurdles and the fences, anything bar concentrate on his jumping. He was just idling and not concentrating.
“When he started racing beside Colin Tizzard’s horse (The Big Breakaway) things were better then. At least the loose horse stayed straight but it was very nerve wracking for me. He quickened away though without a horse going with him.
“Once I got over my fright at the last I was impressed how he pulled away going to the winning post. The first time he ran for me he was a slow staying three mile hurdler so I’m amazed at the amount of improvement he has made. He was just learning and was very green coming from the point-to-point field. He is learning all the time. The performance he put in here last year was fantastic and he has come back and boosted it. I imagine that will be his aim (Gold Cup).
“I think the lack of concentration was the lack of runners in a race. Once you go into a Gold Cup field they will be going much faster and they will be racing. Paul felt he wasn’t racing for the first circuit and he was schooling. Racing itself will take care of that (jumping) a faster race, better race and better horses around him. He said it got very tight (with loose) horse and he was like me in the stands both our hearts took a jump but he got over it.”
In an interview with ITV Racing, Mullins added: “That was heart-stopping. I’ll have to thank James McCarthy heart surgeon in the Blackrock Clinic for the good job he did on this (my heart)! When he made a mistake at the last, or whatever he did I don’t know, it was even harder to watch on the replay.
“He put a quick one in early at the fence going up the hill and it just seemed to unsettle him. Paul asked him for one or two, got him back in his rhythm and he seemed to miss another one.
“He’s such a good horse, it’s great he’s come Cheltenham twice and won twice and he looks a smart one for the future.”
Winning jockey Paul Townend told ITV Racing: “[When I first arrived at Willie Mullins’] it was just at the end of Florida Pearl and Alexander Banquet time, they were the horses I idolised growing up and this lad looks like he could be making up to that type of horse.
“It wasn’t foot perfect today, but he’s got the job done and the further I got up the hill, the better. The further we got in the race, even, the better he was going.
“Early on in the race we just weren’t on the same wavelength I suppose. There’s a lot of pressure riding these fancied horses, don’t get me wrong I know how lucky I am to be riding them, but you have to perform on them as well.”
When asked whether the horse enjoyed the chase track or perhaps wasn’t at his very best, Paul added: “I think he does things so easily and he is still maturing so much that he just takes everything in. There’s plenty to look at out in the country here even. There’s the Jeep driving beside us and plenty of people scattered around the track still, signs everywhere, he just looks at everything [he’s just maturing].
“I would really like to take the opportunity to thank Jennifer Pugh and her team for getting us here. They did a lot of work and we are very grateful.”
Trainer Colin Tizzard was responsible for both the second Fiddlerontheroof and third The Big Breakaway. He said: “It was a lovely race to watch and they’ve just run into a very good horse, haven’t they?
“Fiddlerontheroof ran the race of his life and I’m as chuffed as hell with him. And The Big Breakaway is only six, so he’s a year younger than the first two, which is quite a difference I think.
“We don’t tend to turn them out yet, so if they are in form and fit and well we’ll be doing Aintree then taking a team to Punchestown as well. We’ve had enough lean days this season haven’t we?”
Robbie Power, rider of Fiddlerontheroof, said: “That was a fabulous run. He’s been running really well all season and not getting any credit for it. He’s bumped into some good horses and probably got beaten on days when he wasn’t 100% right, but he was right today and he’s given a Gold Cup horse a run for it.
“He strikes me as though Aintree for the Grade 1 race will suit and then maybe something like the Ladbrokes Trophy would be ideal for him next season. Monkfish could be a Gold Cup horse and I didn’t think he was at his best today as he didn’t jump as he can.”
Harry Cobden, rider of The Big Breakaway, said: “He’s a great jumper. He travelled well and going into the race we thought there was no bottom to him and he’d get further, but he’s probably got more class than I initially thought.
“Three miles on a flat track at Aintree will suit him better than today, and I’d be confident we might be able to reverse the form with the other Tizzard horse – provided Monkfish doesn’t turn up! The winner looked a Gold Cup horse in the making.”
1st – Monkfish – Willie Mullins IRE 7-11-04 Paul Townend Fav 1/4 Fav
2nd – Fiddlerontheroof – Colin Tizzard 7-11-04 Robbie Power 40/1
3rd – The Big Breakaway – Colin Tizzard 6-11-04 Harry Cobden 12/1
Distances: 6½, 11
Time: 6m 11.08s
Winning Owner: Susannah Ricci
Breeder: Cyril O’Hara
Breeding: ch g Stowaway – Martovic (IRE) (Old Vic)
Willie Mullins – 74th winner at The Festival™ supporting WellChild
Paul Townend – 17th winner at The Festival™ supporting WellChild
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