The Irish banker of the meeting?
Even with over three months to go until the Festival, Envoi Allen is already scarily short in the betting to gain his second Festival success. His record remains flawless. One point-to-point. Four bumpers. Three hurdles. Eight wins.
The most exciting prospect in National Hunt racing. How do you get him beat? And is this a formality for him?
Personally, I’m of the opinion that Envoi Allen is so talented and versatile that he would win any of three Graded novice hurdles if he were to line up in them, but to me, the Ballymore looks to be the race that play best to his strengths.
He’s undoubtedly an exceptional horse over two miles; his Champion Bumper success looks to have come in an above average renewal- with beaten horses Thyme Hill, Abacadabras and Master Debonair all producing Graded wins so far this season, with the first two names heading the markets for the other Festival novice events.
Even over the minimum distance, though, I got the impression that stamina would be Envoi Allen’s strong suit, every inch giving the impression that he will be a Gold Cup horse of the future. Stepped up to two and a half at Naas last time, Envoi Allen produced probably his most impressive performance yet, never really having to hit top gear to be pushed clear under a hands and heels ride from Davy Russell.
Not only have been impressed with Envoi Allen’s abundant natural ability, he also appears to have the right mentality to be able to go to the very top- certainly Blue Sari made him graft in the Champion Bumper, but he responded generously to pressure and proved that he won’t shirk a challenge when it comes his way.
Now, Envoi Allen doesn’t strike me as the sort of horse to ever win a top level hurdle by an absolute street- I don’t think he possesses the sort of flashy turn of foot that can see a horse do that, but what I do think he posseses is the rare ability to find a rare extra gear when push comes to shove.
It’s almost as if he just kids his rivals along, asking them to throw whatever they can muster his way, safe in the knowledge that he’ll be able to find just a little bit more, whatever is sent his.
Some think that Envoi Allen’s achievements even merit a tilt at the Champion Hurdle, but that isn’t something I’d personally be keen on. Certainly, you could make a case for him stepping outside of novice company into a Champion Hurdle which might not take as much winning as a usual year, but I’d be looking to set Envoi Allen’s sights over further than two miles.
That being said, whilst I think three miles will be his trip in time, I think choosing to avoid the Albert Bartlett, which can be a notoriously tough race, is the right option at this stage.
The stable plan seems spot on to me. Ballymore it is. Ballymore he wins.
That’s not to say this is a weak crop of staying novices- there’s a number of horses whose current form would entitle them to a credible chance to take advantage of anything were to go wrong with Envoi Allen between now and March, and, who knows, maybe one may be good enough to give him a proper race. I
Thyme Hill was arguably the leading British bumper horse last season and looks to have already taken similar rank in this year’s novice hurdling division. He finished third behind Envoi Allen in the Champion Bumper, and has three Graded wins already this season, namely in the Persian War, the Hyde and last time out in the Challow.
The form of those races looks like it is going to work out well, with Persian War runner up Fiddlerontheroof absolutely bolting up in the Tolworth last time, and Thyme Hill’s visual style is very similar to that of the favourite; never looking likely to win by a wide margin, but always showing enough physical ability and sound attitude to see his opposition off.
Though Thyme Hill has been perfect over hurdles so far, he was clearly the inferior of Envoi Allen in bumpers, and given that Gordon Elliott’s gelding has shown equal adeptness for obstacles, it may not be a huge surprise if Thyme Hill’s connections opt to take the step up in trip for the Albert Bartlett, a race which their horse is favourite for.
Gordon Elliott also has Easywork prominent in the betting for this.
Three from three this season, his win at Limerick over Christmas was as destructive as you’d be likely be to see, having Willie Mullins’ odds-on shot Unexcepted and dual Festival runner-up Discorama within two lengths of him turning for home, before showing an exceptional change of gear to power away to have that pair beat by twenty-two and forty-nine lengths respectively at the line. That was the performance of a Grade 1 horse, and I’d currently rank him as the biggest danger to the favourite.
The Big Breakaway has given the visual impression in his two hurdles starts that he could be something very special.
Though he’s yet to face any opposition that would be meaningful at this level, the way he put distance between himself and a couple of decent types in Blackjack Kentucky and Papa Tango Charley suggested he could be right out of the top drawer.
Again he’s another one with the Albert Bartlett as an option, and given the he seems to me like a proper relentless galloper, I think that might be where I’d lean towards if I was his connection.
Nevertheless, he’ll be massively respected wherever he runs at Cheltenham.
Another horse whose connections will have to decide between this and the Albert Bartlett is Latest Exhibition, who took the scalp of Gordon Elliott’s other much vaunted big money novice Andy Dufresne at Navan last month. Paul Nolan’s charge looks to have possesses the requisite stamina for that test, though he’s a tough type and could also enter the fray if connections decided to aim here instead.