1. Envoi Allen (156P)
Cost £400,000 after winning his point but that looks money well spent following a flawless start to his career under Rules, comprising seven wins from as many starts. Envoi Allen justified strong support to win the Champion Bumper last season, posting the best performance in the race since Briar Hill in 2013, and has quickly established himself as one of the most exciting novice hurdlers of recent times.
He bolted up on his hurdling debut at Down Royal, readily saw off exciting stablemate Abacadabras in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse and then comfortably won another Grade 1 at Naas. He is deservedly considered one of the Irish bankers of the meeting, with Wednesday’s 2m 5f Ballymore Hurdle being his preferred option according to his trainer, Gordon Elliott.
2. Asterion Forlonge (155p)
An impressive point winner, only made his debut under Rules in November and his progress has been remarkable. Asterion Forlonge was forced to work harder than might have been expected to land a bumper at 1/4 favourite at Thurles, but posted a wide-margin win on his hurdling debut at Naas in January before taking the step up to Grade 1 company in his stride at Leopardstown the following month.
He completely took apart a pair of decent prospects in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle, powering home up the straight to win by nearly 10 lengths, marking himself down as one of the best novices around. His owner also has the exciting Shishkin – who has not yet had the opportunity to post a huge rating but looks capable of doing so – and the pair look set to lock horns in the opening race of the Festival, the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
3. Abacadabras (152p)
A smart bumper performer last season – he finished fourth to Envoi Allen in the Champion Bumper – and has taken well to hurdling, winning three of his four starts, including at Grade 1 level last time.
His best performance, however, came in defeat against Envoi Allen in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse, where he was unable to overhaul his illustrious stablemate, but still impressed with the strength with which he travelled. Connections will hope Abacadabras can benefit from Envoi Allen’s absence in the opening Supreme Novices Hurdle.
4. Thyme Hill (150p)
Third in the Champion Bumper last year and has wasted little time in stamping his credentials over hurdles, landing the Grade 2 Persian War – beating subsequent Grade 1 winner Fiddlerontheroof – on his first outing over obstacles. He quickly added another Grade 2 to his haul, comfortably scoring at Cheltenham, and then struck at the top level in the Challow at Newbury.
Thyme Hill has passed every test over hurdles with authority and, while he has yet to run over three miles, he is a strong stayer so looks a leading contender for the Albert Bartlett on the final day of the Festival.
5. Fiddlerontheroof (149p)
Fiddlerontheroof was unable to live with Thyme Hill on his hurdling debut at Chepstow, and suffered a surprise defeat at Wincanton on his next start. However, he was an impressive winner of a novice hurdle at Sandown in December and took another step forward to land the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle, showing that he is improving in leaps and bounds.
That authoritative success marked him down as one of the leading novice hurdlers in Britain and, while he will need to raise his game against the best of the Irish, Colin Tizzard’s runner is entitled to plenty of respect should he turn up in the Supreme Novices or the following day’s Ballymore Hurdle.