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The opening race and the first Grade 1 on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival sees ENVOI ALLEN put his unbeaten record on the line for new trainer Henry de Bromhead. It’s been a race dominated by the Irish over the last decade with eight winners since its introduction in 2011 – four of those trained by Willie Mullins. The race favourite is a two-time Festival winner following success in the Champion Bumper (2019) and Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (2020) for former handler Gordon Elliott.
Six of the previous winners were aged seven-years of age, which is a positive sign for the Cheveley Park owned runner. However, it’s unclear if a late change of trainer and environment could upside his training programme and overall mindset before the Festival.
Meanwhile, the 10-previous winners of this Grade 1 were steered home to victory by an Irish-born jockey, with Jack Kennedy looking for a second success having guided home Shattered Love in 2018.
It would be interesting to see if ENERGUMENE was rerouted to this race instead of the Ankle Chase, while Monkfish (also entered) will most surely contest action here on Wednesday. Elsewhere, the trend of previous starting prices would be a positive for the leading contenders, with only two previous winners returning at over 4/1 in the betting – Benefficient (20/1 in 2013) and Taquin Du Seuil (7/1 in 2014).
The 2021 renewal of the Ryanair Chase looks an open affair with joint leading trainer Willie Mullins dominating the market with four leading entries. The second Grade 1 on the third day of the Festival has seen the home-based horses winning six-times with the Irish winning four of the last five – three of them trained in Closutton. Defending champion Min alongside ALLAHO look definite runners for Mullins, with Kemboy either Stayers Hurdle or Gold Cup bound.
Melon should race here, but the 2020 Marsh runner-up also has the option of racing in the Gold Cup on Friday. The stats side against the chances of Min defending his title with only one 10-year-old securing success in the past decade, with this race dominated by horses aged between seven and nine years of age with that timeframe. Four of the previous six renewals were won by seven-year-olds, which is a good sign for Allaho who was overly keen when third in the RSA last year.
Eight of the previous 10 winners managed a top two finish in at least one of their previous two starts before contesting this contest – a trend against the chances of Melon. Elsewhere, the betting market has also been a key area to assess, with Uxizandre (16/1 in 2015) the only double-digit winner in the last decade. In summary, most recent trends favour the chances of Allaho securing victory and making Willie Mullins the most successful trainer in the history of the Ryanair Chase.
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Despite two victories in the past four seasons (both trained by Willie Mullins) the Grade 1 Paddy Power Stayers Hurdle has been a poor race overall for the Irish. There have been only six Irish-trained winners since 1990, with Paul Nicholls the leading trainer with four-wins in total – all with Big Buck’s. THYME HILL is hoping to continue the excellent recent trend for seven-years-olds, who have managed to win the past four renewals of this race.
Seven of the previous 10 winners had an adjusted Racing Post rating of at least 165, which sides well for a handful of leading contenders – including 2019 champion Paisley Park. Eight of the past 10 scorers had previously raced at the Festival, while seven finished in the first two in all completed hurdle starts earlier that season. This trend would go against the chances of Roksana, if deciding to race here, and Sire Du Berlais, who both finished third in races already this campaign.
Elsewhere, six of the previous eight champions returned at a starting price of 7/1 or over, with the other two scoring for favourite backers. In summary, Champ would be a contender if racing here instead of the Gold Cup, but the most likely winner with several positive trends is Thyme Hill. The seven-year-old could provide Philip Hobbs with his first Stayers Hurdle victory and Richard Johnson with his second having tasted success with Anzum in 1999 for David Nicholson.
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