Henry De Bromhead’s Monalee can lead his rivals a merry dance in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham this afternoon.
He showed here a year ago this track holds no fears for him with a cracking effort when second behind Penhill in the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle, on a surface that was all too quick.
A horse who loves to get his toe in, the rain has arrived right on time for the seven-year-old, who is strongly fancied to give us a big run, in a competitive renewal.
Essentially, the son of Milan was only marking time as a hurdler and was always destined to come into his own over fences.
He made a fine start at Punchestown in the middle of November, making most of the running to score by six lengths.
It seemed as if a potential star had been born and Monalee was immediately asked by De Bromhead to step into Grade One company at Leopardstown at Christmas.
In what shaped as a really good contest, Monalee left the gate as the even-money favourite. He took a crashing fall at the 10th, however, which was very surprising, because he had been foot-perfect on his debut at Punchestown.
It was back to the drawing board then for his astute trainer, the fear being that the horse’s confidence might have been unduly shattered.
Monalee then reappeared in another Grade One at Leopardstown in early February, in what was another decent contest. He was again entrusted with favouritism, returned at 11-4 but, understandably, was rather uneasy in the market on this occasion.
Fears regarding his jumping, though, were soon put to bed, as he proceeded to give a fine exhibition for Noel Fehily, riding the horse for the first time.
Monalee was soon in font and then buckled down in terrific fashion in the straight to beat one of his main rivals now, Al Boum Photo, by a hard-earned three parts of a length.
There were less than two lengths covering the first four home and the form, taken at face value, just isn’t good enough.
But the selection is bound to come on substantially fitness-wise and stepping up three and a half furlongs in trip, and the stiff uphill finish, will play to his strengths.
The very classy Presenting Percy, successful over hurdles at the meeting last year, is the biggest worry.
He has the ability to swamp everything in the closing stages and showed his current well-being when beaten a length into second by the vastly more experienced Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Our Duke at Gowran Park last time.
Rain is a great leveller however and, on the basis the surface will ride soft, or worse, Monalee is the choice to outstay him.
The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle will finally reveal just how good Gordon Elliott’s Samcro really is.
Owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, if he meets defeat then many of us, as the Ryanair supremo has pointed out, have been guilty of completely over-hyping the horse.
Somehow, I don’t believe that will be the case and Samcro to sail though this test with reputation enhanced is the prediction.
He was a good horse in bumpers, no more, but has been hugely impressive since being launched over flights.
Samcro took his maiden at Punchestown in October by 15 lengths and followed by landing a two and a half-mile Grade Three at Navan by 12 lengths.
Then Elliott dropped him down to two miles for a Grade One at Leopardstown and this was the performance that convinced so many Samcro was indeed something special.
He jumped and travelled quite beautifully for Jack Kennedy and never left second gear to beat Duc Des Genievres by five and a half lengths.
Willie Mullins’ Next Destination, also unbeaten in three races over hurdles, has to be greatly respected.
If there is a hole in the favourite then he is well capable of finding it, but Samcro looks a horse without flaws and can go and prove it.
The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase is chockful of interest, especially now that Willie Mullins has finally decided this is the race for the long-absent Douvan.
Min will also do duty for Mullins, as the pair throw down the gauntlet to Nicky Henderson’s flying machine, Altior.
There is no doubt Altior is the one to beat, having made a solid enough return when slamming Politologue at Newbury.
He has, however, been done for his wind, not to mention being lame on Monday and, in a race of imponderables, this is a heat I am more than happy to ignore for betting purposes.
Willie Mullins runs five in the Weatherbys’ Champion Bumper and this is some puzzle, with 24 set to face the starter.
A little each-way on one of the Mullins inmates, Carefully Selected, might reap a dividend.
The ex- point-to- pointer has won both his bumpers so far, soft ground holds no fears for him and we know he stays well beyond two miles.
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5:30 Carefully Selected
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