Which were top three novice chasers in 2020/21?
According to Timeform, the novice chasing division was dominated by three horses who already fall into the ‘top class’ category, but are likely to make more than ordinary improvement. Collectively, Shiskin (171p), Energumene (169p) and Monkfish (167p) won 14 of their 15 races over fences in 2020/21 and, while Monkfish misses the 2021/22 season because of a tendon injury, all three remain outstanding chasing prospects.
Winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, Shishkin made a seamless transition to the larger obstacles, winning all five starts with the minimum of fuss. He produced his best performance, so far, when easily accounting for Eldorado Allen, by 12 lengths, in the Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham in March, but followed up with a second Grade 1 win, in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April. Unsurprisingly, he is currently top-priced at 7/4 to complete a Cheltenham Festival hat-trick, in the 2021 Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Trained, like Monkfish, by Willie Mullins, Energumene missed an intended engagement in the Arkle Challenge Trophy after a last-minute setback, but cantered to a 16-length victory over stable companion Janidil in the Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown on his return to action in late April. That was his second, bloodless Grade 1 victory over fences, having beaten another stable companion, Franco De Port, by 10 lengths, eased down, in the Irish Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown in February, and took his career to 4-4 over the larger obstacles.
Owned by Susannah Ricci, Monkfish was the force majeure in the staying division, winning his first four starts between 2 miles 5 furlongs and 3 miles ½ furlong, including the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. His best performance of the season came in the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown in February, when he easily beat the ill-fated Latest Exhibition by 11 lengths. He did, of course, lose his unbeaten record over fences when comfortably beaten by stablemate Colreevy – who had won the Liberthine Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival – in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown on his final start. In his defence, he ‘probably didn’t run his true race’, according to his trainer, and definitely made a disastrous jumping error at a crucial stage.