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Envoi Allen continues his relentless march

Envoi Allen easily extended his unbeaten record with an 11th successive victory under rules after his chief market rival Asterion Forlonge fell at the first fence in the Sky Bet Killiney Novice Chase at Punchestown.

Gordon Elliott’s dual Cheltenham Festival winner was expected to face a telling test in the Grade Three over two and a half miles, in which he had to give 11lb to his four rivals on heavy ground.

But that situation never materialised after Willie Mullins’ grey got in close when leading and fell for the second race in a row, bringing down outsider Sempo in the process.

Jack Kennedy and Envoi Allen subsequently led throughout – and although challenged by Joseph O’Brien’s Fils D’oudairies three out and again at the last, the 1-2 favourite eased clear again on the run-in to win by three and a half lengths from the 25-1 shot.

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Like many onlookers, Elliott was taken by surprise at the early mishap of Asterion Forlonge.

The County Meath trainer said: “It’s a bit of an anti-climax when the other horse went at the first. Jack said he went around in second gear, with his ears pricked.

“When he asked him to quicken going to the last, he did. He got a bit under the last and quickened again.

“He didn’t mind the ground, and he didn’t do anything wrong. I think he’d be better with a lead because he’s idle, but he had to do his own donkey work.”

Paddy Power, Betfair and Coral all left the Cheveley Park Stud-owned Envoi Allen unchanged at 10-11 for the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

That is likely to be his next race, unforeseen problems with travelling to Cheltenham apart.

Elliott added: “He’s in everything at Leopardstown (Dublin Racing Festival) for fear something happened (with any Covid travelling restrictions) in Cheltenham, but I’d say we will go straight to Cheltenham.

“He’s been to Cheltenham twice and showed he can win around it.”

A big thumbs up from Gordon Elliott for Envoi Allen
A big thumbs up from Gordon Elliott for Envoi Allen (PA)

Kennedy admitted the loose-running Asterion Forlonge and Sempo had presented a challenge.

He said: “The loose horses had my heart in my mouth a few times. They crossed over me, but Envoi Allen is so honest he never took his eye off the fence. He’s unbelievable, and a very clever horse.

“He only really does what he has to do. He was very idle the whole way around in front – but as soon as I sat into the saddle, he put the race to bed.”

Envoi Allen facing stern examination at Punchestown

Envoi Allen has looked a natural over fences to date – but one of racing’s potential superstars faces arguably the stiffest test of his career at Punchestown on Sunday.

Already a Grade One winner over the bigger obstacles at Fairyhouse, the unbeaten Gordon Elliott-trained seven-year-old must carry a penalty in the Grade Three Sky Bet Killiney Novice Chase.

And when Elliott picked out this contest as his lead into another trip to the Cheltenham Festival, he probably did not expect to be giving 11lb to a horse as good as Asterion Forlonge – himself a Grade One scorer over hurdles.

Trained by Willie Mullins for Gold Cup-winning owner Joe Donnelly, Asterion Forlonge was fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and won on his chasing debut before coming down five from home in a Grade One won by stablemate Colreevy at Limerick.

Looking forward to an intriguing contest, County Meath trainer Elliott said: “He’s in great form at home, he’s well.

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“It’s a big ask to give 11lb to a Grade One horse, but this has been my plan and I wasn’t going to change it.

“We could get beat a length and run a very, very good race. It is probably going to be his biggest ask, but I’m happy with the horse and we’ll take our chance.

“It’s a bit like last year, we went from Naas to Cheltenham, and I thought this was the right road to go.

“I said a month ago where I was going. If he gets beat it will be disappointing, but it won’t be the end of the world.”

Envoi Allen's jumping has been foot perfect to date
Envoi Allen’s jumping has been foot-perfect to date (PA Wire)

For Chris Richardson, managing director of Cheveley Park Stud, victory would be poignant as only recently the stud’s joint-owner David Thompson died at the age of 84.

“A victory would mean a lot,” said Richardson

“You get nervous when he’s done what he’s done, and when you come up against a horse like Asterion Forlonge who is getting 11lb that is a task in itself.

“This is where Gordon has always wanted to go prior to Cheltenham, though. It’s looks the right race, there was no question of not running him and Gordon is very happy with him.

“He’s an extraordinary horse so you’ve got to go when the opportunity arises, you can’t dodge. He’s happy and it’s green for go.”

Asterion Forlonge promises to provide a stern test for Envoi Allen
Asterion Forlonge promises to provide a stern test for Envoi Allen (Niall Carson/PA)

In the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, Elliott runs Magic Tricks, who is well on the way to matching up to his illustrious brother and stable companion.

Elliott said: “He’s a nice horse and I couldn’t believe he got beat in a bumper the first day.

“He was very good in Navan and I think he’s come on a bit from it.”

Asterion Forlonge ‘sets the standard’ in Limerick feature

Asterion Forlonge heads a three-strong Willie Mullins team into battle in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick on Saturday.

The Closutton handler has saddled five of the last 10 winners of the Grade One contest, with Faugheen himself raising the roof when getting the better of Samcro 12 months ago.

Asterion Forlonge appears the stable’s first string this time around. The Grade One-winning hurdler impressed on his chasing debut at Punchestown last month and champion jockey Paul Townend takes the mount in preference to riding at Leopardstown.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “Right-handed over two and a half miles on soft ground should be right up Asterion Forlonge’s alley.

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“He won a Grade One over hurdles last season and he sets the standard without doubt.

“Paul thought he was the best of ours on St Stephen’s Day.”

Asterion Forlonge is joined by a pair of stablemates in Janidil and Colreevy, both of whom are one from one over fences.

“Janidil is a horse I have a lot of time for. He has to show he’s a Grade One horse, but I think this trip on this ground will suit him and his physique is far more suited to fencing than hurdling, so I don’t think Asterion will have it all his own way,” Mullins added.

“Colreevy is a Grade One-winning bumper mare. She was very impressive on her chasing debut at Fairyhouse and I would think there’ll be very few mares that will beat her over fences. It will be interesting to see where she fits in with the geldings.”

Pencilfulloflead represents Gordon Elliott
Pencilfulloflead represents Gordon Elliott (Niall Carson/PA)

The biggest threat to the Mullins trio appears to be the Gordon Elliott-trained Pencilfulloflead, who was last seen beating the high-class Latest Exhibition in the Florida Pearl Novice Chase.

“I’m delighted with how he has taken to fences. He wasn’t a good jumper of hurdles, but he has much more respect for his fences and I thought he jumped very nicely at Punchestown last time,” Elliott told Betfair.

“He has to come back in trip a little bit, but he’s horse with a touch of class and he’s not just an out-and-out stayer, so I’m not too worried about the trip and we know from his runs at Punchestown and Galway this season that he goes well on heavy ground.

“He’s going to need to produce another big performance here, but I think he is capable of doing so. I’m expecting him to go close.”

Joseph O’Brien’s outsider Assemble, who chased home Elliott’s superstar novice Envoi Allen in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse on his latest outing, completes the field.

Asterion Forlonge takes Grade One challenge at Limerick

Asterion Forlonge is one of three runners for Willie Mullins in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick on Saturday.

The Closutton handler has saddled five of the last 10 winners of the Grade One contest, with Faugheen himself bringing the house down when getting the better of Samcro 12 months ago.

Asterion Forlonge appears the stable’s first string this time around, with champion jockey Paul Townend travelling to Limerick for the ride.

The Grade One-winning hurdler impressed on his chasing debut at Punchestown last month and is favourite to follow up.

Mullins also saddles the JP McManus-owned Janidil and the only mare in the field in Colreevy.

Gordon Elliott’s Pencilfulloflead and Assemble from Joseph O’Brien’s yard complete the line-up.

The feature event on day two of Limerick’s Christmas meeting is the Grade Two Lyons Of Limerick Jaguar Land Rover Novice Hurdle, a race that has Faugheen, Penhill and Fury Road among those on the roll of honour.

Elliott fires a twin assault, with Farouk D’alene and Ragnar Lodbrok both declared. That pair are two of three representatives for Gigginstown House Stud along with Henry de Bromhead’s Baptism Of Fire.

Previous course winners Costalotmore and Carrolls Cottage are also in contention for what promises to be an attritional affair run over the best part of three miles.

Asterion Forlonge off to winning start over fences

Asterion Forlonge got off to a winning start over fences with victory in the Roche Group At Vista Beginners Chase at Punchestown.

The Grade One-winning novice hurdler – last seen finishing fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March – was sent off at 4-11 for his first try over the larger obstacles and Paul Townend was soon disputing matters with Conflated.

The latter proved a determined rival and the pair matched strides for most of the way, before the Willie Mullins-trained market leader just began to get the better of the argument from the third-last.

Conflated would not go away, however, and there was a scare for odds-on backers two out when the grey jumped to his right and stumbled on landing, although he was quickly back on an even keel.

His jump at the final fence was much better and he came home full of running for a six-length success. Bookmaker quotes varied afterwards for Cheltenham between the Arkle and Marsh Novices’ Chase, but it seems the longer event might ultimately be favoured.

Mullins said: “It was a satisfactory introduction and I’ll be going out in trip with him now, it’ll be minimum two-and-a-half (miles) for the rest of the year.

“I haven’t any plans made for him yet, but I was happy enough with that.

“He jumped very well, obviously he made that mistake at the second-last and he got one wrong before the ditch, but by and large I was happy with him for a first-time-out novice chaser.

“At the second-last I was happy with the way, when it looked like he was going down, he found another leg and picked himself back up.”

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When asked if the Joe Donnelly-owned winner enjoyed going right-handed, he added: “Yes, but it won’t stop me going left-handed again with him.

“I’d say a longer trip will be a help going left-handed. We’d have time for a run before Christmas, but it’s not essential.”

Druid's Altar in winning action under JJ Slevin
Druid’s Altar in winning action under JJ Slevin (Niall Carson/PA)

Druid’s Altar put up a game performance in testing conditions to make a winning debut over jumps in the Osprey Hotel 3-Y-O Hurdle.

JJ Slevin had the Joseph O’Brien-trained gelding up with the pace from the start to share pace-making duties with Perry Owens.

The complexion of the race changed from four out where Druid’s Altar (7-1) and Ilmig moved clear of the remainder, until the former took control to go on and score by four and a quarter lengths, with Perry Owens third.

Druid’s Altar was given a quote of 33-1 for the Triumph Hurdle with Betfair and Paddy Power.

Assistant trainer Brendan Powell said: “He’s a tough, hardy horse. Obviously he had the five runs (on the Flat) and won in testing ground over a mile and a half in Listowel.

“He’s jumped well at home and he stays. In an ideal world he could have got a lead longer, but JJ said he had to let him stride on.

“He had a good look at the last and I’m sure if something went with him in a better race he’d keep on.

“He’s not slow, he stays the trip well, but he’s got a good cruising speed. He’s a lovely big horse and hopefully he’ll have a future.”

Holymacapony in full flight under Rachael Blackmore
Holymacapony in full flight under Rachael Blackmore (Niall Carson/PA)

Holymacapony (7-2) looked a exciting recruit when making a successful debut under rules in the Naas Oil Maiden Hurdle.

The only previous experience the four-year-old had was when winning a point-to-point and he looked decidedly useful in producing an emphatic display.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge, ridden by Rachael Blackmore, brushed aside the 5-4 market leader Gaillard Du Meseil to win by eight lengths. Takarengo was 19 lengths back in third place.

De Bromhead said: “We’re delighted with that. He came well recommended after he won his point-to-point.

“It’s lovely to see him start off like that. It looked like he’ll stay well.

“We’ll see how he comes out of it and we could maybe look at the race at Navan before Christmas, over two and a half miles (Grade Two Navan Novice Hurdle).”

Letsbeclearaboutit looks a smart prospect
Letsbeclearaboutit looks a smart prospect (Niall Carson/PA)

Gavin Cromwell is excited at what the future might hold for Letsbeclearaboutit, following a winning start in the Irish Field (Pro/Am) Flat Race.

He said of his 6-4 favourite: “He’s a real nice horse, he’s exciting.

“I don’t know what route I’m going to take with him, we might go for the Listed bumper at Navan (December 19).

“He’s a five-year-old so the question is whether you go over hurdles with him or stay the bumper route. I’d say we might stay in bumpers and I won’t run him too much.

“He loves that soft ground, but he’s not slow and better ground won’t be a problem to him.”