Cheltenham Festival one-two Monkfish and Latest Exhibition renews the rivalry in the Neville Hotels Novice Race in Leopardstown on Tuesday.
Monkfish trained by Willie Mullins got the better of Paul Nolan’s last exposure by a neck in Albert Bartlett’s novice hedge at the flagship meeting in March, with the high-end pair from Fury Road and Thyme Hill wholesale plan in third and fourth. .
Monkfish made an impressive start to his regulatory fencing career at Fairyhouse last month and he will be a hot favorite for the Level 1 follow-up on the fourth and final day of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival.
Patrick Mullins, his father’s assistant, said: “He was the best rookie hurdles last year and we think the fencing has made him better.
“The last show is a very good horse, but we’ll probably be disappointed if the burbot can’t continue its upward trajectory.”
The latest exhibit made its successful debut at Punchestown in October, but fell short of Pencilfulloflead when the odds of entering a sophomore contest at the same location last out.
The winner didn’t hurt his form, however, when he was narrowly beaten in his freshman at Limerick on Saturday, and Nolan will be hoping his stable star will be seen in a better light on the better ground expected at Leopardstown.
“I hope he runs well – we couldn’t be happier with him,” said the Enniscorthy-based coach.
“It will be very difficult to beat Willie’s horse. He looks to be better on the fences than the hurdles and he has beaten us before on the hurdles in Cheltenham.
“I don’t want to see a lot more rain, but the ground won’t be as heavy as Punchestown anyway, so it should be okay.
“The favorite will be tough to beat, but we’re here with a fighting chance. I just hope he jumps well and has a great race.”
Gordon Elliott has won this award in each of the past three seasons and is represented by Conflated this year.
The Gigginstown House Stud gelding was placed behind Darver Star and Asterion Forlonge in his first two pursuit starts before giving him the third chance with a verdict of 17 lengths in Navan.
Elliott told Betfair: “It’s going to be interesting to see how Conflated goes over three miles as he’s never gone past two and a half. For me he is training like a horse that could get even better and better. I can’t wait to run it.
“I thought he was very good at Navan last time around, when he seemed to be enjoying the return to a left-handed track. If he shows up here in that same kind of form, I could see him running a great race, well. that Monkfish is going to be hard to beat. “
Eurobot (Noel Meade), Foxy Jacks (Mouse Morris) and Heaven Help Us (Paul Hennessy) complete the line-up.