The road to the winner’s enclosure
FRIDAY 2.30 ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES’ HURDLE
IN RECENT years, the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle has been a stepping stone for top-quality horses. In the last five years we have seen Unowhatimeanharry, Penhill and Minella Indo win this race before adding other Grade 1s to their names. Last year’s winner Monkfish added to that list with Grade 1 success over fences in December. The Willie Mullins-trained gelding started last season at Fairyhouse in November over two and a half miles. Sent off the 6-4 favourite, he bumped into an impressive Diol Ker. He made amends next time out, bolting up after being stepped up in trip at the Meath track, winning by 11 lengths at 1-2f. He made it two from three when scoring by even further at Thurles in January, following Run Wild Fred’s fall at the second-last. He looked likely to win that day anyway and arrived at Cheltenham with a big reputation. On the day the market could hardly separate the top four in the betting, with Thyme Hill sent off the 4-1 favourite, with Latest Exhibition at 9-2 and both Monkfish and Fury Road half a point bigger. As the field of 19 set off, Paul Townend and Monkfish positioned themselves prominently, helping to set a strong pace on the inside rail. As the field came past the stands, Townend gave the six-year-old a breather and tucked him in fourth until a stumble stunted his rhythm a little. Coming down the hill, the marker leaders started to mount a charge, stalking the front-runners. Jumping the penultimate flight, Townend’s mount hit the front but at the last he was joined in doing so by Thyme Hill, Latest Exhibition and Fury Road, with all four almost in a line. As the quartet landed it was Fury Road who hit the front, but Monkfish was not to be denied as he battled back gamely on the run-in to take victory by a neck from the Paul Nolan-trained Latest Exhibition.