In his first look ahead to the Cheltenham Festival, on OTB AM on Thursday, Thom Malone had a look at the novice chasers where Envoi Allen, Shishkin, and Monkfish head the respective markets.
Envoi Allen will put his unbeaten record on the line in the Marsh Novices Chase. The horse is a perfect 11 from 11 in all disciplines thus far and his limits look unlikely to be exposed any time soon.
💰 £400,000 purchase
🏆 A perfect 11/11 under rules
🏇 5 Grade 1s - Champion Bumper & Ballymore
❓ Marsh Novices Chase 2021
Envoi Allen quickens away to success @punchestownrace.
Can anything beat the @gelliott_racing and @CPStudOfficial superstar?#EnvoiAllen pic.twitter.com/Nzs4lxhRCq
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 17, 2021
Gordon Elliott’s unbeaten star, while already a Grade One winner over fences looked to be facing his stiffest chasing task at Punchestown last weekend. However, that challenge never materialised with Asterion Forlonge falling at the first obstacle effectively ending the contest as a spectacle as Envoi Allen duly made all with minimal fuss.
In the market for the Marsh, Envoi Allen is odds-on, even money with two English bookmakers, adding to the partisan nature of the Festival. While the rest of the potential runners are all priced at double-figure odds. The presence of Envoi Allen could scare away much of the relevant competition, especially from smaller yards.
Most of the Willie Mullins entries have multiple entries across the novice races and it is always dangerous to second guess the master trainer’s running plans. However, when looking through them, Asterion Forlonge is not a natural jumper and another blip would surely rule him out of the Festival chases. Colreevy looks a good thing for the new Mares’ chase, Energumene will hopefully go to the Arkle to put it up to Shishkin.
Given a patient 😎ride by @92bryan92 Franco De Port comes home strongly to win the Grade 1 @RacingPost Novice Chase for @WillieMullinsNH & owners Burton Street V 🏆
Congratulations to all connections 👏 pic.twitter.com/BrB3Bp4k56
— Leopardstown RC (@LeopardstownRC) December 26, 2020
So of the Willie Mullins runners likeliest to challenge Envoi Allen, Franco de Port fits the bill. He was a winner over a shorter trip at Christmas when Bryan Cooper let the race break apart in front of him. He capitalised on others going too hard in front and looks one who could try similar tactics again in Cheltenham.
Envoi Allen will be the Irish banker of the meeting, the hangover cure on the day after another virtual St Patrick’s Day parade. Realistically despite the 47 entries, Envoi Allen will scare many of them away.
One horse who will not be scared away is the Dan Skelton trained Shan Blue. He was a very slick jumping winner at Kempton of the Kauto Star at Christmas. Shan Blue will provide Envoi Allen with an unprecedented test of jumping at speed.
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) December 26, 2020
Thus far, Envoi Allen has dictated in each of his chase starts with no pressure being put on his jumping. He has been foot perfect, but some of that can be attributed to being allowed to perform at his leisure.
Shan Blue will jump out and ensure a true test of jumping and stamina as he drops back in trip for Cheltenham, having won over three miles on the flat Kempton track at Christmas. Harry Skelton will not let up in front and ensure a true test for Envoi Allen, as an each-way bet, he appeals at 14/1.
Envoi Allen is a very worthy short-priced favourite, but of the potential opposition Shan Blue, Franco de Port and his stablemate Andy Dufresne are three horse that could capitalise should the winning streak come to an end.
If Envoi Allen is the Irish banker then Shishkin possibly fills that role for British punters. Nicky Henderson’s 2020 Supreme Hurdle winner was perfect on both of his chasing starts and will have another run before taking in the Arkle, most likely at Newbury as Altior did in 2017.
There is everything to like about what Shishkin has done so far but unlike in the case of the Marsh Chase, the opposition looks deeper. Willie Mullins has a brilliant record in the race, winning four of the last six runnings, with most of us still wondering how Champagne Fever got beaten in 2014.
Mullins has half a dozen entries, Energumene is the shortest price of those and had the clock watchers salivating when giving Captain Guinness a ready beating at Naas.
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 13, 2021
Felix Desjy and Darver Star blotted their copybooks at Christmas when beaten by Franco de Port. Both horses were ridden unforgivingly that day and after the Dublin Racing Festival, both could shorten in price for this race. As a more consistent sort who placed in a Champion Hurdle, Darver Star at 25/1 NRNB is a more attractive betting proposition.
Again a Dan Skelton horse, Allmankind will make sure it is a thorough test of jumping and looks likely to fire off in front. This will suit Shishkin but with a little restraint, Darver Star could also benefit.
Cheltenham Festival Novices’ Chase
I think we just saw something special 🤩 in the @NevilleHotels Grade 1 Novice Chase 💫
💗MONKFISH💗 puts in a 👌 perfect display of jumping, staying on strongly to deny Latest Exhibition in a thrilling renewal of the @NevilleHotels Grade 1 Novice Chase 💫 pic.twitter.com/6p6610Rhfk
— Leopardstown RC (@LeopardstownRC) December 29, 2020
National Hunt Novices’ Chase
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) December 31, 2020