Monkfish failed to justify favouritism on his hurdling debut at Fairyhouse in November, but he has made up for that in no uncertain terms by winning both his subsequent starts, including an emphatic victory at Thurles last time.
Admittedly, the six-year-old faced a relatively straightforward task that day with his chief market rival disappointing, but it was still hard to fault the way he went about his job, travelling strongly throughout and already appearing to have the measure of Run Wild Fred when that one fell at the second last.
A smart stayer in the making, Monkfish’s form received a boost when Run Wild Fred won a Grade 3 at Punchestown recently, and he looks well worth his place in a higher grade at the Cheltenham Festival, with the Albert Bartlett appealing as an obvious target.
The Chanelle Pharma Novices’ Hurdle at Leopardstown has proved a good guide to the Supreme in recent years, especially where Willie Mullins in concerned, with the Closutton handler having sent out three horses to complete the double since 2013.
Asterion Forlonge is set to become the latest winner of that Grade 1 to try and follow up at Cheltenham, and he looks to have bright prospects of doing so, such was the impression he created when opening his account at the top level last time.
Indeed, the way he drew clear after the last was eye-catching to say the least, ultimately beating Easywork – who had looked a smart prospect himself – by nine and a half lengths in ready fashion.
That form identified Asterion Forlonge as one of the most promising novices in training – he is behind only the 156P-rated Envoi Allen on Timeform ratings – and, with further improvement on the cards, he looks a good bet for the race that opens the Festival on Tuesday, March 10.
Benie des Dieux appeared to have the Mares’ Hurdle at her mercy when disaster struck last season, suffering a fall at the last that was almost a mirror image of the one Mullins’ Annie Power had endured in the same race in 2015.
Annie Power, of course, returned to Cheltenham the following year to gain valuable compensation in the Champion Hurdle, and Benie des Dieux looks to hold obvious claims of doing the same in this year’s renewal of the Mares’ Hurdle, after an impressive success in the Galmoy Hurdle on her return at Gowran Park.
On that evidence, Benie des Dieux possesses a level of ability that would be good enough to see her give any of the geldings a race if rerouting to either the Champion Hurdle or the Stayers’ Hurdle, especially in receipt of a 7 lb weight allowance.
Now unbeaten in eight starts for Mullins, there is no doubt that this represents her best chance of recording a deserved Festival success, though, and she will be many people’s idea of a banker at the Festival in a race her trainer has already won nine times.
Mullins can boast an equally impressive record in the Champion Bumper since Wither Or Which provided him with his first win in the race back in 1996. His best chance of taking his tally of winners to double digits at this year’s Festival looks to be Appreciate It, who established himself as the clubhouse leader in this division with a ready success at Leopardstown last time.
Admittedly, several of his rivals didn’t bring their ‘A’ game in that Grade 2, but it was still hard not to be mightily impressed by the way the strong-travelling Appreciate It got the job done, leading on the bridle entering the final two furlongs and quickly forging clear.
Unsurprisingly, the six-year-old is a red-hot favourite for the Champion Bumper on the back of that performance, and, with only one other horse at single-figure odds in the current ante-post betting, he looks to hold standout claims in his bid to follow in the footsteps of Envoi Allen, who completed the Leopardstown/Cheltenham double last season.
*Prices correct at time of publishing and Paddy Power are non runner money back on all Cheltenham races.