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Can anything stop relentless Monkfish on his road to chasing superstardom?

Monkfish (centre): strong favourite to maintain his unbeaten record over fences
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1.55 Cheltenham
Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (Registered As The Broadway Novices' Chase) (Grade 1) | 3m½f | 5yo+ | ITV/RTV

There is nothing unusual about Willie Mullins running his main hope for the Brown Advisory Chase in the Flogas as a final prep run. He has done it with two of his four winners of this race, and plenty of others besides who did not complete the double.

Monkfish was slightly different. This was the horse who won the Albert Bartlett last year by a neck, but it had been widely agreed that he would have won it by daylight had he not been such a baby/big lump. 'He needs fences and time', as the old form book euphemism would have said.

He won over 2m5f on his chasing debut, but that was punching down, then took the long run between the last two fences to get the revs up over 3m at Christmas. Now he was being returned to shorter for the Flogas, and many thought Latest Exhibition would give him a race.

Only it did not turn out like that. Monkfish's 11-length rout that day has been arguably the best novice chase performance in a season that has been remarkable for those. Three novices this season had broken the 170 barrier on RPRs before the spring festivals – and Envoi Allen is not one of them.

Strictly speaking, Monkfish is 1lb off Royale Pagaille but the latter stretched right away from seasoned chasers at Haydock, a performance made to impress handicappers. Monkfish, the putative galoot who won the Albert Bartlett on raw ability alone, controlled the Flogas and dashed away as he liked.

There are two possible conclusions. The first is that Monkfish is still on the previously assumed trajectory and that he will continue to improve well into next season. If that is the case, then he is Denman. More likely is that the Flogas should lead us to suspend all previous impressions. This horse is growing up fast and is both professional enough and near enough to his peak to be treated as a Gold Cup-class chaser who retains his novice status.

It is a real possibility that Monkfish will not need to match his last performance to win this. Latest Exhibition's connections have taken the hint after three increasingly emphatic defeats, leaving five rivals who between them have only 13 races' worth of chasing experience and two graded wins.

One of those wins was at Grade 1 level, Sporting John's in the Scilly Isles. He is the first winner of that race to run here since Punchestowns 11 years ago but the choice of race is a logical one. He won the Scilly Isles because the leaders softened each other up. The field ran from the Pond fence to the line at just 92 per cent of the overall race speed, allowing the patiently ridden Sporting John to pounce. Another test of stamina should suit.

Sporting John: the only other Grade 1-winning horse in the field

Eklat De Rire is only a Grade 3 winner but impressed in comfortably accounting for Escaria Ten at Naas in January. He has essentially made all on both chase starts and is a real stayer in the making, so looks to be the pace angle in the field.

Also in possession of Grade 1 talent is The Big Breakaway. He is perhaps the type many assumed Monkfish to be: a gifted brute who is taking his time to adapt to fences. He shaped like the best horse in the Kauto Star, repeatedly coming back at Shan Blue despite conceding lengths to him at every fence. If he has smoothed out some of those bad habits in the almost three months since, he is a major player in the race for second.
Keith Melrose, betting editor

'He has done nothing wrong all year' – Monkfish out to cement 2022 Gold Cup claims

Four years ago it was the race in which Might Bite had them all bang to rights before taking an almighty curiosity in the Guinness village. Three years ago Presenting Percy had a certain Al Boum Photo covered before the future dual Gold Cup winner tipped up. Two years ago it was that thriller between Topofthegame, Santini and Delta Work and last year Champ needed every yard for the most unlikely comeback since the resurrection of Jesus.

The Brown Advisory is a race, then, that has had a monumental impact on the Gold Cup picture in recent years. And yet, despite all that has gone before, this year more than any other feels like it could be a more significant trial for the 2022 Gold Cup than this year's renewal of the race that most captivates racing fans in Britain and Ireland.

That is because of Monkfish. He is already favourite for next year's big one. Rich Ricci runs Royale Pagaille in that because Monkfish had first dibs on the Brown Advisory. It may seem a weird way of doing things, but this is a horse whose incredible talent had to overcome his rawness in last season's Albert Bartlett.

This is a horse with just three chase – and eight career – starts to his name. This is a horse already rated higher than Denman was for winning this race by ten lengths in 2007. This is next year's horse then, but he might just do something special this year anyway.

His trainer Willie Mullins, who the Gold Cup eluded for so long but seems to have finally got the hang of it, said: "He has done nothing wrong all year and he appears to be in very good order. He’s three from three over fences and we’re very hopeful that he will continue the winning sequence here."

Favourite fact

The overall record of favourites is not stellar with just three winning in the last ten years - although it is also three in the last six years with the biggest priced scorer an 8-1 shot in that time. If you are wondering how odds-on shots have got on in the Brown Advisory, there has not been one since Racing Post records began in 1988.

What they say

Nicky Henderson, trainer of Dickie Diver
He's only had one run and he has a lot on his plate, but he's got to go somewhere and he's a good horse too. He will like the ground, that's for sure.

Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Eklat De Rire
He’s travelled over great and I’m really happy with him. He’s just a really straightforward nice young staying chaser.

Joe Tizzard, assistant to Colin, trainer of Fiddlerontheroof and The Big Breakaway
We've said The Big Breakaway is our best chance of the meeting, he goes in second favourite and he looks really well at home. The Kempton run worked a purpose as he ran well and learned a lot from it. We've had a good prep with him and we're really excited about running. Harry [Cobden] will be riding him for the first time but he's been schooling him a lot for the last two years and has been dying to get on him. Hopefully Monkfish can tow us into the race. 

The Big Breakaway: rated as the Tizzards best chance of a festival winner

We've put a tongue-tie on Fiddlerontheroof as his head came up a little bit at Warwick but it won't do him any harm, it might help. He's rated 148 and he's done nothing wrong all season, he just keeps bumping into a good horse. This trip might just help him so I expect him to run a nice race.

Philip Hobbs, trainer of Sporting John
He's won a Grade 1 and is hopefully progressive. He's only had two runs over fences so is not that experienced and a small field is ideal.
Reporting by Stuart Riley

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He's three from three over fences and we're very hopeful that he will continue the winning sequence here
E.W. Terms