Cheveley Park Stud director Richard Thompson is relishing the prospect of seeing the brilliant Envoi Allen lead a formidable team into battle at the Cheltenham Festival.
One of the most successful breeding and ownership operations in the sport, Cheveley Park are more renowned for their success on the Flat, with the brilliant sprinter Pivotal, the top-class Medicean and multiple Group One-winning mare Russian Rhythm all household names.
But in recent years, the late David Thompson and his wife Patricia ramped up their interest in National Hunt racing – a move which has seen them land four winners at Cheltenham in the last two years.
Son Richard has been there throughout the glory years, but admits nothing gets the blood pumping quite like a winner in the Cotswolds.
“I’ve always been brought up on the Flat essentially, as that is where our real business lies,” said Thompson.
“We’ve always strived to breed and race big Flat winners and to have winners at Cheltenham is more fairytale stuff, I suppose.
“I’ve been a Cheltenham regular over the years. Even when I was younger I’ve enjoyed going down to Cheltenham on the train for the Gold Cup – I was there when Dawn Run won and when Desert Orchid won.
“We’ve won some great races on the Flat, which has been fantastic, but the atmosphere at Cheltenham is beyond anything I have experienced at a racetrack in the UK, no question.
“Bringing in a winner at Cheltenham, with the atmosphere and noise, is incredible.”
While Cheveley Park’s involvement in National Hunt racing is a relatively recent move, the Thompsons have had a strong link with the jumps game over the years, most notably with the 1992 Grand National hero Party Politics.
Thompson said: “Party Politics was probably the first really big winner. My father bought him as a birthday present for my mother two days before the National, so that will obviously occupy a big space in my memory bank.
“Dad always liked the jumps. We had a couple of runners in the National in the 1980s – Classified finished third (behind West Tip) in 1986 – and we’ve had a couple of other runners in the race
“Dad always had a thing about the Grand National, as a lot of people do. It’s such a big race.”
It was in 2018 the family decided to extend their interest in jump racing – buying a small but select string of jumps horses to run in Cheveley Park’s easily identifiable red, white and blue colours.
Although their Flat horses are trained in Britain, a chance meeting between Richard Thompson and Willie Mullins ultimately led to the vast majority of the family’s jumpers plying their trade in Ireland.
“My father and I were chatting a few years ago and I said to him that if we wanted to buy some proper jumps horses, it would be better to buy them young and with more potential, as a lot of the horses we’d bought for the National had been older,” Thompson added.
“I was sitting next to Willie Mullins at the Sir Peter O’Sullevan lunch in 2017 and that Christmas was when dad and I started talking about buying some young jumps horses.
“Dad was obviously getting older, so he agreed that we’d give it a go and I certainly promoted Willie as a potential trainer, having had a good chat with him at the lunch.
“Off the back of that we said having a few horses with Willie and Gordon Elliott might be the way to go, and then Alex Elliott, who bought A Plus Tard for us, recommended Henry de Bromhead.
“That first batch of horses included Envoi Allen, Allaho and A Plus Tard and I think between all the horses we’ve bought they’ve won nine Grade Ones and four Cheltenham Festival races, which is remarkable really.
“We just thought it would be something different and a bit of a change. It’s worked out fantastically well for us.”
The undoubted star of the squad is Envoi Allen, who has lived up to his expensive price tag of £400,000 with 11 straight wins, including back-to-back Festival wins in the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
The seven-year-old will be considered one of the bankers of the whole week when he returns to Prestbury Park for the Marsh Novices’ Chase, and Thompson admits to feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement.
“It’s amazing the following that Envoi has got. It’s just fantastic to be associated with a horse like him,” he said.
“It’s a shame we won’t be there to see him this year, but in a funny way that actually takes a bit of the pressure off.
“Let’s just hope he can keep the run going.”
Joining Envoi Allen on the Cheveley Park squad bound for Cheltenham are A Plus Tard, Allaho, Ballyadam, Sir Gerhard and Quilixios.
Should one or more of the sextet roar up the famous hill in front, the success will be tinged with sadness, following David Thompson’s death at the age of 84 in early January.
Thompson said: “My father had tremendous pleasure watching these horses before he passed away. He couldn’t go to Cheltenham in 2019 or 2020 as it was hard for him to walk at that stage, but I know he got tremendous enjoyment out of watching it on television.
“My mum was there on the Wednesday last year and led Envoi Allen in after winning the Ballymore.
“Unfortunately none of us will be there this year because of Covid restrictions, so I’ll be watching the racing on TV with mum and my three sons, who do enjoy the racing as well.”
A Plus Tard, who provided the owners with their first Festival success two years ago, is this season considered a leading contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup following his last-gasp win in a thrilling Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December.
Thompson said: “That (Savills Chase) was fantastic and it was actually the last race my father ever watched, so it’s quite poignant.”
Ballyadam will be Cheveley Park’s first runner of the week in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, before Sir Gerhard bids to provide the team with a third successive win in Wednesdays Champion Bumper, following the triumphs of Envoi Allen and the currently-sidelined Ferny Hollow.
Allaho heads the betting for the Ryanair Chase on Thursday, while Quilixios will be in juvenile action.
Despite David Thompson’s death, his son insists there will be no let up in Cheveley Park’s bid for success in the coming years, both in the breeding shed and on the racecourse.
He added: “It’s business as usual. My mother is still very much enjoying it and I love it.
“Cheveley Park will carry on and do what we’re hopefully not bad at doing, occasionally – breeding a few winners and having a few winners on the track.
“We’ve loved it as a family over the years. It’s given us great enjoyment and fulfilment and we intend to carry on.
“We’ve got around 120 horses in training, including the 16 jumpers. With my father not being around we’ll need to look at things a bit more carefully, but seeing the red, white and blue winning at Cheltenham and winning a few Grade Ones has been fantastic.
“It’s a shame my father’s not here to enjoy the next few years, but at least he was here for some of the success and hopefully there’ll be a good bit more to come.”