Unbeaten in seven starts under Rules to date, Envoi Allen produced his best effort in this sphere when winning the Royal Bond Novices’ Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December, typically finding plenty for pressure to land the spoils by a length and a half.
That performance remains the best produced by any novice hurdler this season on Timeform ratings, and he proved that this longer trip is well within his range when adding to his Grade 1 tally at Naas last time.
Clearly, this represents the toughest challenge of his short career, but he has passed every new challenge with flying colours, and, unlike many of his rivals, we already know that Cheltenham holds no fears for him given how strong he was at the finish when capping his first season under Rules with success in the Champion Bumper.
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The Champion Chase lost some of its lustre when it was announced that Altior – the winner of the last two renewals – had been ruled out due to a setback, but it still has the makings of a fascinating clash between Chacun Pour Soi and Defi du Seuil, with the former appealing as very much the one to beat.
Willie Mullins’ charge already has a verdict over Defi du Seuil, when winning impressively at last year’s Punchestown Festival, and he has improved again in two starts this season, most recently beating Min with a top-class performance in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown.
That identified him as the best chaser in training on Timeform ratings, and, with the prospect of more to come given his lightly-raced profile, he is fancied to provide his trainer with an overdue first success in today’s feature event.
Blacko has looked a bright prospect in winning both his starts to date for Alan King, not needing to improve to make most of the running at Warwick last time, ultimately winning comfortably by two and a quarter lengths.
Admittedly, the bare form of that effort is unlikely to be good enough for him to defy an opening mark of 135 on his handicap debut, but there is no doubt that we haven’t seen the best of him yet, with the strong gallop here expected to see him in an even better light.
Few horses are expected to be travelling as well as him when the field turn into the straight, and he makes plenty of each-way appeal in a race where Paddy is paying the first 5 home.