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A so-called banker before he even jumped a fence in public, ENVOI ALLEN has been the hot favourite for this Grade 1 Novice Chase over the intermediate trip all season and nothing he has done in his three wins over fences since would lead you to doubt him. Although not extravagant in style, he is professional, slick and versatile seemingly taking everything in his stride. They are traits that will no doubt serve him well with the late stable switch to Henry De Bromhead.
An unbeaten bumper performer before landing the Champion Bumper, he went on to enjoy an unbeaten hurdle campaign before taking the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle last year and I very much expect him to continue the trend with a win in this to crown another unbeaten season.
A race which has been farmed by Gordon Elliott in recent years has increasingly become a fertile hunting ground for unexposed hurdlers on the up. The Denise Foster stable rely on The Bosses Oscar, a horse who finished fifth in the Martin Pipe last year and has undoubtedly been kept for this race since placing second in a qualifier at Christmas.
While the Irish have dominated this race in recent years, I’m siding with IMPERIAL ALCAZAR to hand trainer Fergal O’Brien an overdue first Festival winner. The Warwick qualifier winner is a young, improving horse who should find conditions to his liking and with the experienced Cheltenham expert Paddy Brennan in the saddle, he has plenty in his favour.
This race has a very open look to it where you could make a case for many at big prices including Samcro who is two from two at the Festival or Fakir D’oudairies who was beaten less than two lengths by Wednesday’s Champion Chase winner Put the Kettle On in last year’s Arkle.
With Saint Calvados now absent, marginal preference for me is with the Cheveley Park Stud owned Allaho. He has twice placed third in novice events at the track and a victory over leading Mares Chase contender Elimay at Thurles last time should put him spot on to continue an excellent week for his standout jockey Rachael Blackmore.
The absence of leading contender Thyme Hill has robbed the race of the eagerly anticipated “decider” between him and 2019 Stayers winner PAISLEY PARK. Despite the score standing at 1-1 this season I have no doubt the rematch would have gone the way of Emma Lavelle’s popular stayer, who now faces an altogether easier task.
Defeat in this race last year when suffering from a heart problem was put well and truly behind him with an exhilarating late burst to land the Long Walk at Ascot last time. The brilliance that saw him dominant this division for several years is still very much in evidence and he can reclaim his crown as Champion Stayer again.
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The quality of this race continues to rise year-on-year with Simply The Betts’ success last year off a mark of 147 matching that of The Storyteller’s in 2018 as the two top-rated winners of this contest. FILS D’OUDAIRIES caught my eye as one who may follow suit for trainer Joseph O’Brien.
With only four chase starts to his name so far, a runner-up effort behind Envoi Allen at Punchestown advertised his potential ability and this unexposed French import could be very well handicapped swimming here in much calmer waters than the Grade 1 Flogas Novices Chase last time.
All five runnings of this race have been won by Willie Mullins and he fields another typically strong hand headlined by Rich Ricci’s Hook Up who looks to land a third win in the race for the owner. In what looks an open race this year, the Irish-trained contenders dominate the market with not much to split the top four.
Although run under different conditions to what might be expected this week, the Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse in February may be the key race to focus on where the Jonathan Sweeney-trained ROSEYS HOLLOW lowered the colours of Royal Kahala. She is a fast-improving mare whose jumping is improving with every run and I expect her to repeat the feat in this Grade 2 contest.
The 11-year-old Vintage Clouds rolled back the years to land the Ultima Chase on Tuesday and I’m hoping SHANTOU FLYER can repeat the feat on the third day. The Paul Nichollstrained veteran has finished close up in the placings at the last three Festivals, twice in the Foxhunters and failing by just a neck to win the Ultima three years ago. His two runs for his new trainer including when finishing second at Wincanton last time, which should put him spot on for this race back at his favourite track on his preferred ground.
Gina Bryce’s tips summary:
13:20 Marsh Novices’ Chase – Envoi Allen
13:55 Pertemps Handicap Hurdle – Imperial Alcazar
14:30 Ryanair Chase – Saint Calvados
15:05 Stayers’ Hurdle – Paisley Park
15:40 Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase – Fils D’oudairies
16:15 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – Roseys Hollow
16:50 Kim Muir Challenge Cup – Shantou Flyer
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