After a sluggish start to the Festival, Willie Mullins’ team found stride late on Wednesday, upped the pace with a double on Thursday, and when Monkfish edged out compatriots Latest Exhibition and Fury Road in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, it was a third on the day and a sixth in total for the Closutton maestro.
Burning Victory was fortunate in the Triumph Hurdle, Saint Roi in a different league in the County Hurdle, and to complete the perfect hat-trick, Monkfish was tough as teak in the three-mile novice event.
As the race came to a climax, four horses separated themselves from the pack. Monkfish, Latest Exhibition, Fury Road, and favourite Thyme Hill went to battle all the way up the hill and served up a thriller. The last-named was a little short of room before the last flight but had had every chance to go through the gap before it closed somewhat.
On the outside of the quartet, Fury Road looked to be getting the best of the argument when edging ahead at the back of the last but Latest Exhibition rallied gamely and, with one last gasp effort and a brilliant drive from Paul Townend, Monkfish came between horses to prevail by a neck.
The Paul Nolan-trained Latest Exhibition touched off Gordon Elliott’s Fury Road for the runner-up spot, with last year’s Champion Bumper third, Thyme Hill, in fourth place, ten lengths and further clear of the remainder.
The win brought Mullins level with Gordon Elliott on six winners for the meeting, and Townend to four, one behind leading rider Barry Geraghty.