Cheltenham Festival: The Ultimate Guide - 2021-03-05


Monkfish made to measure


Dave Randall

Court Maid Useful mare who is three from five over fences for Thomas Mullins, including ready victories at Galway and Fairyhouse in July and October. Won a good Fairyhouse handicap over a longer trip in November and then ran third off 148 on the New course here in December. Steps up in class with outside place claims in receipt of her 7lb allowance. Dame De Compagnie Won the 2020 Coral Cup off a mark of 140 for trainer Nicky Henderson and is trading much shorter for the Mares’ Hurdle this year. Made a promising winning chasing debut at Ayr in January but had plenty of work to do when hampered and unseating at the 12th in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last month. Should be more to come from her on better ground at some stage, but stamina for this trip is as yet unproven. Demachine Two from four over fences for Kerry Lee, including a decent novice handicap chase at Ascot in November, and was making his first start since a breathing operation when held in second behind Remastered back at Ascot in the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase last month. Needs to continue improving to fulfil his outside place claims. Dickie Diver Stayed on into an 11-length fourth in the 2019 Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle for Nicky Henderson and this winning Irish pointer made an encouraging return from a significant absence when second off a mark of 141 on his debut over regulation fences at Newbury in December. Open to plenty of improvement over fences but trading shorter for the marathon novice contest on the opening day. Eklat De Rire Irish point winner who produced a decent winning display in a staying maiden hurdle at Thurles for Henry de Bromhead in March 2020 and is now two from two over fences, including a likeable Grade 3 Naas success in January. Legitimate each-way contender if continuing to progress upped in grade and coping with the likely better ground. Escaria Ten Another winning Irish pointer who is now three wins from eight starts. Finished a 15-length fifth behind Monkfish on his chasing debut over regulation fences at Fairyhouse in November. Won easily at Thurles the following month and ran second behind Eklat De Rire in a Naas Grade 3 contest in January. May have more to offer on better ground, and place claims again in that scenario, but trading much shorter for the 3m6f novice contest on day one of the festival. Fiddler on the roof Won Sandown’s Grade 1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle for Colin Tizzard in January 2020 but finished well down the field in the Supreme here on his next start. Remarkably consistent level of form in his five starts over fences this season from 2m3f to 3m, but has won only once and second on the other four occasions. Reportedly bled from the nose when runner-up in a Grade 2 at Warwick behind Next Destination in January and others make more appeal. Latest Exhibition Grade 1 novice hurdle winner over a slightly shorter trip at Leopardstown in February 2020 for Paul Nolan and then beaten a neck by Monkfish when second in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting last year. One from four over fences this season and has come second behind his nemesis Monkfish on the last two occasions in Grade 1s at Leopardstown. Decent place claims if reproducing the form, but trading shorter for the 3m6f novice contest that closes out the opening day. Lieutenant Rocco Pulled up behind Monkfish for Colin Tizzard in the 2020 Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and much better form over fences for Nick Mitchell this season. Ran creditably over shorter trips here, and at Wincanton, before taking his form to a new level when registering his first chasing victory in a decent Ffos Las contest last month. Entitled to take his chance given the way he jumped that day, but connections may also be eyeing one of the handicaps after he was allotted a potentially generous mark of 147. Monkfish Irish point winner in 2018 who is now six from eight for Willie Mullins. The seven-year-old narrowly won a strong running of the 2020 Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and has impressed in going three from three over fences this season, including two Leopardstown Grade 1s. Registered an RPR of 170 with his 11-length success in the Flogas Novice Chase and that figure is surpassed only by Royale Pagaille, who is in the same ownership, among these entries, and he is trading much shorter for the Gold Cup. Next Destination In hindsight, possibly should have contested the 2018 Albert Bartlett rather than the Ballymore – stayed on for third behind Samcro – and won over this longer trip in Grade 1 company at Punchestown before leaving Willie Mullins. Following a significant absence, the nine-year-old has 211 form figures for Paul Nicholls this season, and is two from two over fences, including defeating Fiddlerontheroof in Grade 2 company at Warwick in January. This is tougher but he has place claims. Pencilfulloflead Four wins from nine starts and has improved over fences this season with two wins from four starts, including a sevenlength victory from Latest Exhibition in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Novice Chase at Punchestown in November. Kept on when held in third behind Eklat De Rire at Naas in January and is another with the 3m6f novice chase option on the first day. Remastered Likeable old-fashioned type of chaser for David Pipe who has improved and gone three from three over fences this season. The son of Network had Demachine four lengths behind in a dominant Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase success at Ascot last month, and would make some appeal at the likely prices for a top-three or top-four finish if allowed to take his chance here rather than stepping up to 3m6f on the opening day. Royale Pagaille Owned, like Monkfish, by Susannah Ricci, he is much more likely to run in the Gold Cup, but connections are keeping their options open with their 16-length Grade 2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase winner. The Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old is experienced for a novice – three from 11 over fences – after an earlier phase of his career in France and should be competitive wherever he turns up as he seeks a seasonal four-timer. Sporting John Talented novice hurdler for Philip Hobbs last season who didn’t run to form when well down the field in the 2020 Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle behind Envoi Allen, and disappointed on his chasing debut behind Fiddlerontheroof at Exeter on his reappearance in November. Took his form to a new level, though, with a ready win from off the pace in Sandown’s Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase last month and possible claims if proving his stamina for this longer trip. The Big Breakaway Wide-margin Irish point winner who was two from three over hurdles for Colin Tizzard last season, including finishing fourth behind Envoi Allen in the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Jumped well over this course and distance when making a winning chasing debut in November, and a drop in trip didn’t suit at Exeter, before a more encouraging second behind Shan Blue in Grade 1 company at Kempton on Boxing Day. Goes well fresh and remains open to the improvement which could see him competitive again. VERDICT Assuming Royale Pagaille takes up one of his other engagements, most likely the Gold Cup, then the same owner’s Monkfish will arrive upwards of 9lb clear of this field according to RPRS and will take up the mantle as one of the bankers of the meeting. Based on that latest Leopardstown success, he should deliver, and this race could cut up badly with plenty doubly entered in the 3m6f contest on day one. The Big Breakaway and Eklat De Rire may follow the selection home. 1 Monkfish 2 The Big Breakaway 3 Eklat De Rire



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