Meade keen on Monksland
Noel Meade says he would not swap Monksland for any other horse in what looks set to be a wide-open renewal of the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
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With four-times winner Big Buck's sidelined by injury, the stage is set for a new staying star to step up to the plate in March, but at this stage it is difficult to know how many of the leading contenders will even run in the race, let alone win it.
Reve De Sivola and Oscar Whisky dispute favouritism after finishing first and second respectively in Saturday's Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham and Monksland would appear third in line, with leading mare Quevega unlikely to line up and doubts over the participation of Tidal Bay.
Meade's six-year-old certainly looked the part when winning on his first attempt at three miles at Leopardstown over Christmas and the trainer is looking forward to seeing him line up at Prestbury Park.
"He's good at the moment and he's going straight to Cheltenham," said Meade.
"There are plenty of people hoping their horses will be good enough and plenty of contenders and we're one of them.
"The two horses in England the other day both ran very good races I thought and we'll just have to see where we fit in.
"We think there is a bit more improvement to come from our horse and if anything, he might be a shade better horse on better ground. I wouldn't swap him."
Meanwhile, Meade has nominated the County Hurdle as a possible target for Il Fenomeno following an encouraging run in defeat at Leopardstown over the weekend.
The seven-year-old ran with credit at the highest level in novice company last season but failed to make an impression on his first two outings of the current campaign.
However, fitted with blinkers for the first time, Il Fenomeno ran far better to finish fifth in Saturday's ultra-competitive Boylesports.com Hurdle and Meade feels the result may have been even better had he been ridden more patiently by Paul Carberry.
"He would probably have run better if he'd been held up, but we'll forget about it now and move on," said Meade.
"He'll go for another one of those handicaps. He's in the race in Newbury (Betfair Hurdle, February 9) but I don't think he'll go there as it might just come a bit too soon.
"He could possibly run in the County Hurdle, but we'll see."