Monkfish is likely to be part of the formidable Willie Mullins team bound for the Cheltenham Festival in March after coming home in splendid isolation in the W.T. O’Grady Memorial Irish EBF Novice Hurdle at Thurles.
The champion trainer regularly sends a team of 50-plus horses to the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds – and while Monkfish is unlikely to be one of his leading hopes, he has certainly earned his place on the ferry.
A dominant winner at Fairyhouse last month, the six-year-old was the 5-4 favourite to follow up in the hands of Paul Townend.
The race was still in the balance two flights from home, but Run Wild Fred’s heavy fall left the Monkfish in the clear and he was 20 lengths ahead of eventual runner-up Alpine Cobra at the line.
Mullins said: “It was a good performance by Monkfish. More than likely he’ll run in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, but he’ll be entered in the Ballymore also.
“That was a good trial for the Albert Bartlett, if that is the direction we go.”
Mullins went on to complete a treble, with Real Steel (2-1) landing the featured Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase and 4-7 favourite Elimay impressing in the Grade Two Coolmore N.H. Sires Capri Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase.
Arcadian Sunrise justified 5-2 favouritism in the Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Maiden Hurdle.
The winner of a Carlisle bumper in November, John Queally’s charge filled the runner-up spot behind the exciting Saint Roi on his hurdling debut at Tramore on New Year’s Day and was well fancied to go one better.
Whatsnotoknow made a race of it, but Arcadian Sunrise passed the post half a length to the good in the hands of Denis O’Regan.
Queally said: “There is a winners’ auction race coming up somewhere and that’s where he’ll go. These auction races are a good idea for those type of horses.
“We bumped into one at Tramore, trying to give him 10lb.
“We’ll get through the next race before deciding on running in the series final at Punchestown.”
Trainer Barry Murphy teamed up with 7lb claimer Oakley Brown to land the Matty Ryan Memorial Handicap Hurdle with 4-1 shot Pakens Rock.
Noel Meade’s Ice Cold Soul (13-2) gained a narrow verdict in the www.thurlesraces.ie Handicap Chase, with Eoin Walsh the winning pilot.
There was a surprise result in the concluding bumper, with Liam Burke’s 7-1 shot Coolbane Boy and Tom Feeney inflicting defeat on Mullins-trained hotpot Power Of Pause (3-10 favourite).