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Galmoy Hurdle: Monkfish into Stayers' Hurdle picture with dominant Gowran victory for Willie Mullins

Multiple Grade One winner Monkfish returned with victory at Gowran Park, defeating Thedevilscoachman and Ashdale Bob in the Galmoy Hurdle; the two-time Cheltenham Festival winner is a general 16/1 for the Stayers' Hurdle

Monkfish powers away to win the Galmoy Hurdle under Paul Townend
Image: Monkfish powers away to win the Galmoy Hurdle under Paul Townend

Monkfish threw his hat into the Stayers' Hurdle ring with a battling comeback victory in the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park.

It is fast approaching four years since the Willie Mullins-trained chestnut edged a thrilling Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The following season, he looked a potential superstar in the making after winning three Grade Ones in his first four races over fences, including the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase back at Prestbury Park.

Paul Townend celebrates on Monkfish
Image: Townend celebrates on Monkfish at the Cheltenham Festival

However, he suffered a shock defeat at the hands of stablemate Colreevy at the 2021 Punchestown Festival and was subsequently sidelined for two years.

He came within half a length of making a successful return at Fairyhouse last spring, but was well beaten back in Grade One company at Punchestown and had another nine-month absence to overcome ahead of this three-mile Grade Two.

A 13/8 shot in the hands of Paul Townend, Monkfish was settled at the rear of the four-runner field for much of the way before being delivered with his challenge in the home straight.

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There was little to choose between the quartet on the run to the final flight, but it was the 10-year-old who finished strongest to score by five-and-a-half lengths from the front-running Supreme Novices' Hurdle hero of six years ago, Summerville Boy.

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Sponsors Paddy Power reacted by slashing Monkfish's Stayers' Hurdle odds to 16/1 from 66/1, although the champion trainer's son and assistant Patrick insists plans are fluid at this stage.

Mullins said: "He hasn't missed any training [this season], we just hadn't got him out, so we were happy his fitness would hold up. We thought he was a Gold Cup horse once upon a time, but that is a great start to his season and hopefully he can build on it now.

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"We were supposed to start him at Tramore on New Year's Day but he got a little bang, so we decided to wait for this. He is in the Gold Cup and Stayers' Hurdle but all options are open and it will be a case of what race suits, when he is ready.

"We won't rush him back and Cheltenham is only seven weeks away, so he'll probably go straight there. The decision regarding which race he runs in will be a Willie special.

"Ruth Dudfield does a fantastic job in keeping him sound and we'll just hope he is OK in the morning. Touch wood, at his age, he will stand up to it."

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