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Thursday 20th May 2021
   
Cheltenham Gold Cup 2022: Will Everything Go Swimmingly for Monkfish?

Eyeing a unique hat-trick in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, everything appeared to be in order for Al Boum Photo to complete the trio back in March. Backed as race favourite, the nine-year-old was the best-rated horse in the field and had reliable jockey Paul Townend – no stranger to Cheltenham Festival glory – in the saddle.

Willie Mullins’ star was in good order approaching the mid-point of the race, but a sluggish turn for home left him with plenty of work to do. And it was not to be, as Minella Indo – a relative outsider with young Jack Kennedy on board – got into his stride with three to jump. Rachael Blackmore, seeking to become the first female jockey in history to win the Gold Cup, was also close at hand aboard A Plus Tard.

A thrilling finale saw Minella Indo, a length clear, launch himself at the last fence, clear it with gusto and run on to win. A Plus Tard placed second and Al Boum Photo, running out of steam, placed third.

It’s interesting to reflect on the race, as the ante-post markets for next year are now open, and in the Gold Cup 2022 horse racing betting odds the trio are expected to compete once again for the meeting’s flagship prize. But there’s another young fancy from the Mullins yard that could have the beating of all three of them…

Stepping Up in Class

Monkfish is a two-time Cheltenham Festival winner at the sprightly age of seven. The progeny of Stowaway and Martovic won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2019, outpacing a quality field that included Latest Exhibition and Fury Road.

Sent out chasing the following season, Monkfish showed tremendous potential over the stiffer fences. Then, a hat-trick of excellent wins on Irish soil – including an eleven-length triumph in a high quality Flogas Hurdle renewal – set the tone for what was to follow rather nicely.

The seven-year-old was sent off as a red-hot favourite in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, and he did his backers no harm at all with an absolute romp of a victory. Aside from a tangle with a loose horse, Monkfish stayed on comfortably to win by a six-length margin.

The nature of the Cheltenham Festival is such that the dust has barely settled on the current year’s edition before punters start to think about the next. So, questions about Monkfish’s likely path towards the Gold Cup were already being asked.

Mullins issued a positive rallying cry back in March. “He's [Monkfish] still learning, he's still green and he has made some great improvements in the last year,” the Irish trainer said. “I imagine next year's Gold Cup will be the aim now.”

Still fairly unexposed as a chaser, Monkfish will have age on his side against a veteran in Al Boum Photo and a relatively unknown quantity in Minella Indo, who has a habit of throwing in an idle run from time to time.

Monkfish has the speed and the build to be a Gold Cup champion, and he has shown in the past that he has the stamina to win in a mudbath, too. This is a horse for all occasions – there’s none bigger than the Cheltenham Festival showpiece.

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