Mullins admits Monkfish's Cheltenham win was the most nervous he's ever been


Closutton chief hopes unbeaten novice chaser will be back next year for a crack at the Gold Cup

Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Monkfish claimed the second Cheltenham Festival win of his career but it was far from fluent in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

Monkfish claimed the second Cheltenham Festival win of his career but it was far from fluent in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase


They call it winning ugly, though that's more than a little unfair to racing's brightest rising star Monkfish in only his fourth race over fences, writes James Toney. 

After all it's called a novice chase for a reason and history will recall that Monkfish - arguably the hottest of Irish hotpots at this year's Cheltenham Festival - was the winner and that's all that matters.

Paul Townend admitted his charge was far from fluent, standing off a fair few fences and giving his backers some serious palpitations, a stutter at the last proceeded by a galvanised charge to the line.

However, such has been his brilliance this season that only five showed up to showdown in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase and he was still just too good for them all.

They say a measure of success is finding a way to win when you aren't at your best and this was the equine equivalent of a scrappy 1-0 away win for the Irish raider, who will now be aimed at a third Festival success in next year's Gold Cup.

"That's the most nerve wracking race I've ever watched, 1-4 odds on in six runner novice chase around Cheltenham," admitted trainer Willie Mullins.

"Paul said he was idling early on, he was focusing on anything else but jumping. He just wasn't racing, it was like he was just schooling at home but then he finally started concentrating and properly doing his work.

"When he made a mistake at the last it was hard to watch. Once I got over the fright I was impressed by how he quickened to the winning post. 

"He's still learning, he's still green and he has made some great improvements in the last year.

"I imagine next year's Gold Cup will be the aim now. I think the lack of runners in this race was the reason for his absent concentration, that won't be an issue in the Gold Cup."

Townend wore a broad grin as he returned his charge to the empty winners' enclosure - the smile mainly tinged with relief, rather than happiness.

Jumps racing is a thankless game and when you've riding such a short-priced favourite it can be a fools’ errand - you're either just along for the ride if they win or an incompetent halfwit should they fail.

"He wasn't foot-perfect but he got the job done," said Townend. "Early in the race it was like we weren't on the same wavelength.

"It’s a lot of pressure riding these fancied horses. Don’t get me wrong I know how lucky I am to ride them but you have to perform on them."

It’s a lot of pressure riding these fancied horses. Don’t get me wrong I know how lucky I am to ride them but you have to perform on them.
- Paul Townend 

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