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Russell mulling Punchestown option for Aintree hero Ahoy Senor

Ahoy Senor may be heading to the Punchestown Festival this month as Lucinda Russell ponders one more outing over hurdles for her impressive Aintree winner.

Russell has made no secret of the intention that British point-to-point graduate Ahoy Senor’s future will lie over fences as of the start of next season.

But after the six-year-old’s shock yet decisive success from a field of top staying novices in Grade One company at Aintree last week, his Scottish trainer will consider heading to Punchestown for the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle on April 28.

Ahoy Senor was among a clutch of British entries published on Monday for the five-day meeting, which will feature many of the stars of this spring’s major Festivals in a finale to the National Hunt season.

“It won’t do him any harm to get a bit more experience,” said Russell.

“But he really is a (future) chaser, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

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A decision over whether to travel has therefore yet to be made.

Russell added: “It’s 50-50 really. We’ve just got him back into work and we’ll find out how he is.

“I’d prefer it to be ground on the soft side. So no firm decision has been made (yet) – we’ll see how we get on over the next week.

“Maybe it’s being a bit greedy – but then again, if he is in good form, he is a racehorse and that’s what he’s been bought to do.”

So far, three days after the lightly-raced Ahoy Senor’s seven-length win from Bravemansgame, he appears to have recovered well from what was his third run of the campaign – and just the second hurdles start of his career.

Russell said: “He’s fine. He’s a remarkable horse really – very inexperienced race-wise, but just a very straightforward horse to deal with.

“We knew he was a very good horse. We only bought him in the autumn, and he missed out on the early-season novices.

“He’s been very well-prepared, and had a full season in training before he ran in his point-to-point – so we always knew physically he was going to cope with it.

“It was just whether he would mentally – but he is just very straightforward.”

Elsewhere among the Punchestown entries, Henry de Bromhead’s champions Minella Indo, Put The Kettle On and Honeysuckle are all in the reckoning – and Monkfish and Envoi Allen are on course to clash too in a test of their superstar potential.

Gold Cup hero Minella Indo is one of 11 currently in the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup – along with Willie Mullins’ Al Boum Photo, dual winner of Cheltenham’s signature event, and his stablemate Kemboy, successful in the most recent edition of this race in 2019.

Gold Cup winner Minella Indo may be in action again at Punchestown
Gold Cup winner Minella Indo may be in action again at Punchestown (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The opposition for Queen Mother Champion Chase heroine Put The Kettle On, in the William Hill Champion Chase, includes Dan and Harry Skelton’s Nube Negra – who got closest to the mare in second at Cheltenham – and Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi. The latter’s stablemate and Ryanair Chase winner Allaho and Joseph O’Brien’s Aintree Grade One star Fakir D’oudairies also hold alternative Gold Cup entries.

On the same card, which opens the meeting, dual Cheltenham Festival winners Monkfish – unbeaten over fences for Mullins – and De Bromhead’s Envoi Allen, who lost his perfect record when falling in the Marsh Novices’ Chase last month, are among 12 in the Dooley Insurance Champion Novice over an extended three miles.

Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter, winner of Cheltenham’s Stayers’ Hurdle, tops 25 possibles in Punchestown’s Grade One equivalent – and Envoi Allen has the option of dropping back to two miles, with both Mullins’ Energumene and Nicky Henderson’s Arkle and Aintree hero Shishkin among the potential opposition in the Ryanair Novice Chase.

The Paddy Power Champion Hurdle could feature a rematch between Honeysuckle and Henderson’s 2020 Cheltenham winner Epatante – who was third this year – with her stablemate Buveur D’Air and Gary Moore’s Goshen also potential British challengers.

Punchestown possibility for Envoi Allen

Envoi Allen could aim to atone for his fall at Cheltenham with an outing at the Punchestown Festival.

Now with Henry de Bromhead following his switch from Gordon Elliott, Envoi Allen suffered the first defeat of his career last week in the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

He was just about the only disappointment in a stellar week for owners Cheveley Park Stud, who celebrated three winners and two seconds.

“Before the Festival we thought Envoi Allen might be our winner and the others might go close, but it wasn’t to be for him. He’ll learn from that,” said the stud’s managing director Chris Richardson.

Jack Kennedy trudges back following Envoi Allen's fall
Jack Kennedy trudges back following Envoi Allen’s fall (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“Unfortunately he made his first mistake of the season at the wrong time. He was a little upset beforehand, a bit on his toes and Jack (Kennedy) was trying to get him settled.

“He’d only been in small fields up to now, and with horses around him he probably wasn’t focussed on the job in hand. Luckily both him and Jack were fine and we can look forward to many more occasions going forward.

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“He’s in at Fairyhouse over Easter. As long as he’s fine, obviously travelling can take a bit out of a horse, Punchestown would probably be favourite I would suspect, but that is something the Thompsons will discuss.”

One of the most impressive displays of the week was Allaho in the Ryanair, and all options are open to him over seemingly all trips.

Allaho was spectacular in the Ryanair
Allaho was spectacular in the Ryanair (Michael Steele/PA)

“Allaho was impressive. I think for my part, two and a half miles suits him really well. Over three miles we were always wondering if he quite got home,” said Richardson.

“He’s got a great future. Whether we drop him back to two miles or stay and two and a half, he could still get three one day as well. He was spectacular to watch so we’re excited to see what he does next.

“Everything looks open to him. Richard Thompson (owner) will speak to Willie (Mullins), but the Melling Chase at Aintree is an option over two and a half miles, going left-handed, that must be a consideration, but it will all come out in the wash. It’s exciting to have a horse of that calibre and he certainly caught the imagination in every way.”

As well as Sir Gerhard in the Bumper, Quilixios carried the Cheveley colours to victory in the Triumph Hurdle.

Quilixios was an impressive winner of the Triumph Hurdle
Quilixios was an impressive winner of the Triumph Hurdle (Michael Steele/PA)

“Going into the race he was four from four and by then Rachael (Blackmore) was just full of confidence and gave him a fantastic ride. It was a stellar performance and confirmed how good he potentially is,” said Richardson.

A Plus Tard was a length and a half away from making a memorable week unforgettable in the Gold Cup and Aintree is on his agenda.

Richardson said: “I think A Plus Tard showed he stayed the trip well enough and he’s only a young horse, hopefully he’ll have a few more goes at it. He’s only seven.

“We may see him back at Aintree where that track would suit him, if the travelling and the race hasn’t taken too much out of him. He needs to go left-handed ideally.”

Cheveley Park are still relative newcomers to the National Hunt scene after the late David Thompson decided he wanted to cheer on a small but select string in the winter months. Thompson sadly died in January.

“We sent a small but strong team, but to have three winners and two seconds was fantastic and it was a fitting tribute to David Thompson,” said Richardson.

“David Thompson wanted them to run in Cheveley’s colours and wanted some action during the winter months. We couldn’t have dreamed it would work out so well.

“Last week really was pinch yourself stuff and a great credit to the Thompsons, and Tom Malone and Alex Elliott who source the horses.

“It’s obviously been a very tough time and it would have been lovely had David Thompson seen Cheltenham week, but it wasn’t to be. He certainly leaves a great legacy.”

Danny Mullins steps in to floor Stayers’ rivals

Flooring Porter provided Danny Mullins with an unexpected Cheltenham Festival victory on the third day of the showpiece meeting.

Contesting the feature race, the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, Flooring Porter was the intended mount of Jonathan Moore but it was Mullins who got the leg-up when Moore felt an injury sustained in a previous fall would leave him unable to ride the horse to the best of his abilities.

Such a turn of events proved to be a stroke of luck for Mullins, who expertly steered the six-year-old to a three-and-a-quarter-length success at 12-1 for trainer Gavin Cromwell.

The Marsh Novices’ Chase provided another unexpected result as the odds-on favourite Envoi Allen fell at the fourth fence, sacrificing his flawless record and leaving an opportunity for Nicky Henderson’s Chantry House he was not to forego.

Elsewhere Rachael Blackmore’s dominance continued as she was victorious for Henry de Bromhead in both the Ryanair Chase and the Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, aboard Allaho and Telmesomethinggirl respectively.

Mrs Milner was another popular winner as she took the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle for trainer Paul Nolan and resurgent jockey Bryan Cooper, while Mount Ida had to be seen to be believed in the Kim Muir.

Picture of the day

Jack Kennedy cuts a lone figure as he walks back up the course after falling from 4-9 favourite Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novices’ Chase
Jack Kennedy cuts a lone figure as he walks back up the course after falling from 4-9 favourite Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novices’ Chase (David Davies/PA)
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Quote of the day

“Everybody knows how hard it is to get a good horse. We came across this lad by accident, he was a very cheap store so it’s a bit of a fairytale really – it just goes to show dreams can still happen” – Gavin Cromwell after Flooring Porter’s success in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.

Performance of the day

Allaho, ridden by Rachael Blackmore, on his way to winning the Ryanair Chase
Allaho, ridden by Rachael Blackmore, on his way to winning the Ryanair Chase (Tim Goode/PA)

Allaho was an emphatic winner of the Ryanair Chase for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore, soaring to a 12-length victory after leading from the third fence to the line. Though his jump at the final fence was not completely fluent, the seven-year-old had been so bold and dominant from the tapes that only a tumble would have thrown a rope to the distant chasing pack.

Ride of the day

Jack Kennedy clears the last in front on Mount Ida
Jack Kennedy clears the last in front on Mount Ida (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Backers of Mount Ida – and there were plenty as she was sent off the 3-1 favourite in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup – would have been forgiven for throwing away their tickets after four fences. She was jumping markedly out to her right and was almost tailed off before Jack Kennedy produced one of the most memorable rides in Festival history. Having hit the maximum 999-1 in-running, Mount Ida sliced through the field before hitting the front on the bridle. Quite how much she will go up in the handicap is for another day.

Tweet of the day

Liverpool’s James Milner was following the action closely – he was always going to be backing Mrs Milner!

What’s next?

Al Boum Photo is poised to bid for a famous hat-trick
Al Boum Photo is poised to bid for a famous hat-trick (Tim Goode/PA)


Al Boum Photo will bid to emulate greats such as Best Mate and Arkle when he attempts to win a third successive Gold Cup on the final day of the Festival. His chief rivals are Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard, piloted by the in-form Rachael Blackmore, and Nicky Henderson’s Champ. Elsewhere on the card the leading four-year-old hurdlers battle it out in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, with Zanahiyr and Tritonic heading the field, and Elimay is well-fancied for the Grade Two Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase.

Envoi Allen crashes out as Chantry House takes Marsh honours

Chantry House took the Marsh Novices’ Chase after Envoi Allen’s untimely and unexpected early exit in the opening race on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival.

All eyes had been on Envoi Allen and there was a real sense of anti-climax when the 4-9 favourite came down at the fourth fence, leaving his jockey Jack Kennedy disconsolate.

It was trainer Nicky Henderson who was the beneficiary, saddling the 9-1 winner Chantry House, ridden by Nico de Boinville, as well as the runner-up Fusil Raffles for good measure.

The latter was up front from the start along with Shan Blue, who was given the office by Harry Skelton to stretch the field a long way out.

That injection of pace caught the opposition off guard, but they still were able to reel in Dan Skelton’s charge after three out where the Henderson pair were in prime position.

Chantry House proved the stronger up the hill to prevail by three lengths from Fusil Raffles and give Henderson a 70th winner at the Festival.

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Asterion Forlonge was another two lengths back in third, with Chatham Street Lad fourth.

Henderson said: “He was very good. To be fair, when Dan’s horse quickened up down the back, it was a bit like last year. When he ran in the Supreme behind Shishkin he looked to need another half mile and it looked the same again.

“You’d have to think he’ll be going over three miles sooner rather than later.

“At Wetherby last time out he was good, but he needed surgery on his back after he ran here the time before. He did well to get back in time to run at Wetherby, in truth.

A long walk back for a devastated Jack Kennedy after the fall of Envoi Allen
A long walk back for a devastated Jack Kennedy after the fall of Envoi Allen (Tim Goode/PA)

“He’s a lovely horse and I’d hoped he would at least give Envoi Allen a bit of a race, but you’ve got to take it when you are given a chance like that.

“I don’t know why we wouldn’t go over three miles at Aintree or Punchestown, it just depends how quick he recovers.”

He added: “It’s a pity he (Envoi Allen) fell from a lot of points of view, but on the other hand it was nice to take the opportunity. He’s looked flawless all year so it was a surprise to see him do that.

“We looked in top gear for a lot of the race there, so it certainly looked like going further would help him.

“We’ve had a couple of disappointments this week, it’s nice to get JP (McManus, owner) on the board for the week, too.”

Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Envoi Allen, said: “Jack just said he was a little bit keen. He just launched at the fence, unfortunately, and that was it.

“I’ve had a look at him though and he looked fine, and Jack’s fine too, so that’s good.”

Henry de Bromhead walks down to console Jack Kennedy
Henry de Bromhead walks down to console Jack Kennedy (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Kennedy said: “He is fine, so that’s the main thing. He was very keen down over the first few fences and he was very brave over the first two.

“He went down and popped the third fence then and I thought he might be settling into it, but he went down and let fly at that one and fell. That’s hugely disappointing, but we live to fight another day.

“He was just doing too much with me in behind horses and he just came up out of my hands and landed on the top of the fence. He will learn from it, I suppose. He’s never made a mistake in his life so that was probably too good to be true.

“Something was going to happen at some point, so he will learn from it.”

Cheltenham Festival day three – Paisley bidding to reclaim Stayers’ crown

The Thursday of Cheltenham offers three Grade One contests, with the card headlined by Paisley Park’s Festival comeback in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

The Paddy Power-sponsored event may be the joint-feature, but the opening race of the third day is equally fascinating as the unbeaten Envoi Allen bids for the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

The Ryanair Chase shares top billing, with Willie Mullins seemingly holding all of the aces with his highly-fancied trio of runners.

There are then large-field handicaps for punters to solve, with the running of the Pertemps Network Final and the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase, after which the Grade Two Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle looks set to be dominated by Irish runners and riders.

Infallible Envoi?

Envoi Allen winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Envoi Allen winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Andrew Matthews/PA)
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Envoi Allen heads to the Marsh Novices’ Chase with a flawless record of 11 runs and 11 victories, the most recent of which was a comfortable success in the Killiney Novice Chase at Punchestown. He has since switched to the yard of Henry de Bromhead after departing Gordon Elliott’s stable and the eyes of the racing world will be on the seven-year-old as he bids to confirm his superstar status.

Mullins the man to beat, again

Min has been a fine servant to the Willie Mullins yard
Min has been a fine servant to the Willie Mullins yard (Tim Goode/PA)

The market can barely split the three Mullins runners that head the field for the Ryanair, with Allaho, Melon and Min all expected to shine. Out of the trio only Allaho was a winner last time out, but Min has the superior Cheltenham form, having been successful 12 months ago, and Melon was only a nose off taking the Marsh Novices’ Chase last year.

People’s horse Paisley on the comeback trail

Paisley Park would be a hugely popular winner
Paisley Park would be a hugely popular winner (David Davies/PA)

Paisley Park would be hugely popular winner if he were to triumph for Emma Lavelle in the Stayers’ Hurdle. He won the race in 2019 but was well beaten last season when suffering with an irregular heartbeat. After treatment he has bounced back to his best this term and is highly-fancied after the main threat to his success, Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill, was ruled out with a minor injury. Rebecca Curtis’ Lisnagar Oscar was a shock 50-1 winner last season and is back for more.

Novice mares meet again

Royal Kahala is another leading contender for Ireland
Royal Kahala is another leading contender for Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Royal Kahala and Roseys Hollow will meet again in the the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, with the latter having prevailed by two lengths when the two crossed paths in the Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last time out. Willie Mullins also has a live chance in the race as Hook Up reverts to her own sex after finishing fourth behind Appreciate It in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

All eyes on would-be superstar Envoi Allen

Envoi Allen puts his unbeaten record and huge reputation on the line in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on Thursday.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned seven-year-old is already a dual Festival winner, having previously landed the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Given he has barely put a foot wrong in three starts over fences to date, the budding superstar of the National Hunt scene is unsurprisingly all the rage to make it a hat-trick on his return to the Cotswolds, despite a late move from Gordon Elliott’s yard to Henry de Bromhead.

“He’s travelled over well and Henry is very happy with him,” said Cheveley Park’s managing director Chris Richardson.

Envoi Allen at Cheltenham on Wednesday morning
Envoi Allen at Cheltenham on Wednesday morning (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“There’s little to say that hasn’t already been said really. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him and I just love the way he pricks his ears and jumps beautifully.

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“Even last time at Punchestown, when it looked like he was going to get challenged, he just showed his class and went again.”

Richardson admits not being on track is disappointing for both himself and Cheveley Park’s owners, the Thompson family.

He added: “We’re missing it all. We’ve had such a special time at Cheltenham the last couple of years and it would have been very special to be there again.

“I suppose it does take a bit of the pressure off, (but) to have 16 National Hunt horses and have six of them running this week is beyond one’s wildest dreams.”

Envoi Allen is set to face seven rivals in the day three opener, with Nicky Henderson saddling both Chantry House and Fusil Raffles.

Fusil Raffles is three from four over fences this season, while Chantry House bounced back from a disappointing run behind his stablemate at Cheltenham in December with a comprehensive success at Wetherby last month.

Henderson said: “Fusil Raffles has been a star this season. The only bad run he had was at Cheltenham, on the day everything of mine got stuck in the mud.

“I was very pleased with Chantry House at Wetherby. He was third in the Supreme last year and was very impressive first time over fences at Ascot, which isn’t a place I would usually take a first-time-out novice chaser.

“He was very disappointing at Cheltenham next time – he completely forgot how to jump.

“Since then he has had a bit of surgery on his back and he did very well, as Wetherby was only eight weeks after that.

“We’re running into what is probably one of the Irish bankers in Envoi Allen, but I’m not going to lie down and with Chantry House and Fusil Raffles, we’ve got two shots at it.”

Willie Mullins is also doubly represented, with Asterion Forlonge and Blackbow both declared.

Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue, the Mick Winters-trained Chatham Street Lad and Darver Star from Gavin Cromwell’s yard complete the line-up.

Envoi delighting De Bromhead ahead of Festival hat-trick bid

Envoi Allen has settled into his new surroundings well, according to trainer Henry de Bromhead.

Already a dual Cheltenham Festival winner, Envoi Allen will head back to the big meeting as the banker of the week for many in the Marsh Novices’ Chase on Thursday.

Owners Cheveley Park Stud switched Envoi Allen to De Bromhead’s care last week, days before Gordon Elliott was suspended for six months after a picture of him sitting on a dead horse was posted on social media.

“He’s settled in really well. Obviously it’s not ideal – it’s not how you want to get horses – but we feel very fortunate that Cheveley Park sent him and the others to us,” said De Bromhead.

Envoi Allen has been faultless in his career to date
Envoi Allen has been faultless in his career to date (PA Wire)

“We’re trying to keep his routine as similar as possible. The horses arrived looking fantastic.

“Gordon was very helpful and filled us in on what he’d been doing, and he seems really good. He marches around the place – I saw him this morning and was delighted. He schooled really well for Jack Kennedy yesterday.

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“Touch wood, he’s settled in as well as he could, considering it’s two weeks before the race.”

Should Envoi Allen meet with a first defeat, the finger could well be pointed at the change in scenery, but that is not something which concerns De Bromhead.

“There’s pressure with all of them – my main objective is to get them there as well as I can. As much as you love to maintain unbeaten records – Honeysuckle is in the same position – I know how hard it is to win at Cheltenham,” De Bromhead told talkSPORT2.

Honeysuckle was a winner at the Festival last year and is set for one of the big clashes of the week with fellow mare Epatante in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.

“She seems to be progressing all the time. Last year she was six, it was her first time going to Cheltenham – and we felt two and a half (miles) was more her trip at the time,” said De Bromhead.

“We were trying to look for the most winnable option – although coming up against Benie Des Dieux, so it wasn’t necessarily that. It (Mares’ Hurdle) just seemed the safer option. I was delighted to get a first winner for (owner) Kenny Alexander there as well.

“Now we’ve ticked that box. We said if things went well in the Irish Champion Hurdle, we’d like to have a go at the Champion Hurdle. She made that decision for us.”

De Bromhead later revealed Honeysuckle will not be joined in the Champion Hurdle by stablemate Jason The Militant, adding: “He needs soft ground over two miles and is the type of fella that I wouldn’t want to jar up if it was much better than that.

“We will aim him at Aintree over two-and-a-half on a flat track. We would run him on good to soft there.

“Cheltenham comes a bit soon after the Red Mills, so it was a combination of things really.”

De Bromhead also has two live chances in the Gold Cup, with Minella Indo and A Plus Tard.

Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore have struck up a great partnership
Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore have struck up a great partnership (Tim Goode/PA)

“Minella Indo had a great start to the season, then fell when favourite in the Savills. It wasn’t a plan to go to the Irish Gold Cup, but we had to go get a clear round somewhere,” he said.

“He was probably a little disappointing immediately after the race, but he seems great now and he always comes alive at Cheltenham. We’re hoping for a big run – he was only just chinned by Champ last year, so shouldn’t be far away from him.

“A Plus Tard looked good winning the Savills Chase – showing he stayed, having already won a Grade One over two miles. I’m looking forward to both of them.

“There has to be a doubt about the trip with any horse until they’ve done it, but he’s shown a liking for the track and was staying on again in the Ryanair last year. In the Savills, it looked like he needed every inch of three miles.”

Envoi Allen heads Marsh hopefuls

Envoi Allen heads 14 confirmations for the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham next week.

The unbeaten star was in the headlines last week when owners Cheveley Park Stud decided to move him to Henry de Bromhead’s yard in the wake of the Gordon Elliott case.

Already a dual winner at the Festival, he is likely to be one of the shortest-priced favourites of the meeting.

Willie Mullins has left in Monkfish for Thursday’s Grade One, but he is expected to take up his option in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase over the longer trip of three miles the previous day.

Asterion Forlonge, Blackbow and Franco De Port are Mullins’ other Marsh possibles.

Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue, a Grade One winner already this season, and Nicky Henderson’s Chantry House, lead the home team.

Chatham Street Lad, an impressive handicap winner at Cheltenham in December, is also engaged.

All the major players are still in the Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, better known as the Dawn Run.

They include Roseys Hollow, Royal Kahala, Gauloise, Hook Up and The Glancing Queen.

There are 31 left in the Pertemps Final – with the weights currently headed by The Bosses Oscar, now in the care of Denise Foster, and Harry Fry’s veteran Unowhatimeanharry.

Fergal O’Brien, still searching for his first Festival winner, has high hopes for Imperial Alcazar.

David Pipe’s Brinkley, Henderson’s Champagne Platinum and Tom George’s Come On Teddy have also all stood their ground.

The Paddy Power Plate has some quality at the head of the weights – which are topped by the Venentia Williams-trained Fanion D’Estruval.

Henderson’s duo of Top Notch and Caribean Boy, Sue Smith’s Midnight Shadow and O’Brien’s Paint The Dream all have smart form to their name.

In total 36 have been left in, and theyalso  include the Emmet Mullins-trained The Shunter – winner of the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso and chasing a £100,000 bonus. He still holds several entries through the week.

Double Shuffle leads the way in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup – which this year sees professional jockeys take the place of amateurs.

Kerry Lee’s Storm Control, the Philip Hobbs-trained Deise Aba and the ante-post favourite, Jonjo O’Neill’s Time To Get Up, are among the 31 remaining.

Envoi Allen the headline act as Cheveley Park target more Festival glory

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.

A general view of Cheveley Park Stud in Newmarket
A general view of Cheveley Park Stud in Newmarket (Joe Giddens/PA)

“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.”

Party Politics returns victorious in the 1992 Grand National
Party Politics returns victorious in the 1992 Grand National (John Giles/PA)

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

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“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.

Richard Thompson (centre) and his mother Patricia receive the trophy after Envoi Allen's victory at Cheltenham last year
Richard Thompson (centre) and his mother Patricia receive the trophy after Envoi Allen’s victory at Cheltenham last year (Andrew Matthews/PA)

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.”

Envoi Allen has carried all before him so far
Envoi Allen has carried all before him so far (Andrew Matthews/PA)

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 is going for Gold Cup glory
A Plus Tard is going for Gold Cup glory (Niall Carson/PA)

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.

Allaho is another who will fly the flag for Cheveley Park at Cheltenham
Allaho is another who will fly the flag for Cheveley Park at Cheltenham (Niall Carson/PA)

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.”

All set for clash of the titans at Cheltenham

For decades the Cheltenham Festival has been considered the ultimate battleground for British and Irish-trained National Hunt stars – and while it did not look likely for a while, that rivalry will resume in the Cotswolds.

There will be no packed grandstands or Guinness Village overflowing with revellers, but the action on the track promises to be as fiercely competitive as ever, with the Prestbury Cup going to the victors of the Anglo-Irish turf war.

The Prestbury Cup stayed in Britain in the first two years it was contested in 2014 and 2015, but Ireland has triumphed every year since, bar 2019, when the two nations won 14 races each.

Ahead of this year’s meeting, we assess five of the chief hopes for the home team, and five horses likely to ensure Irish eyes are smiling once again:

THE BRITISH

Shishkin – Nicky Henderson – Arkle Trophy

Shishkin is Britain's leading novice chaser
Shishkin is Britain’s leading novice chaser (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Hot on the hooves of Sprinter Sacre and Altior, Shishkin emerged as the latest two-mile superstar on the Seven Barrows conveyer belt when producing a remarkable performance to win last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. While the margin of victory over Abacadabras was small, Henderson’s ace came from a seriously uncompromising position to grab victory, which is testament to both his talent and tenacity. He has made a near-flawless transition to the chasing game this term, with a pair of wins at Kempton and a recent Doncaster domination setting him up perfectly for his Festival return. The withdrawal of Energumene makes Shishkin’s task easier, although it should still be a cracker with Allmankind blazing a trail in front.

Epatante – Nicky Henderson – Champion Hurdle

Epatante was brilliant in last year's Champion Hurdle
Epatante was brilliant in last year’s Champion Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

The JP McManus-owned Epatante progressed from high-class handicapper to the best around in the two-mile hurdling division last season, with success in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton followed by a dominant display at Cheltenham. She looked as good as ever when barely coming off the bridle in winning the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on her reappearance, but blotted her copybook with a lethargic effort when defending her Christmas Hurdle crown. However, Henderson believes he has valid excuses for that defeat and if she can bounce back to her best in the Cotswolds, even the brilliant Irish mare Honeysuckle may be powerless to resist her electric turn of foot.

Royale Pagaille – Venetia Williams – National Hunt Chase

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Royale Pagaille bolts up in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock
Royale Pagaille bolts up in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock (David Davies/PA)

This French recruit failed to beat a single rival home in his first two starts for Venetia Williams and prominent owner Rich Ricci last season, but has seemingly been turned inside out since a summer break. After making a successful start to the current campaign in novice company at Haydock, Royal Pagaille made a mockery of an opening handicap mark of 140 at Kempton over Christmas, and was even more impressive when routing his rivals in Haydock’s Peter Marsh Chase under top-weight in January. On his revised mark of 166, connections would have been fully entitled to consider a Gold Cup bid, particularly in what looks an open renewal. However, the Riccis love nothing more than success at Cheltenham and the long-distance novice slot looks Royale Pagaille’s best opportunity to continue his winning run.

Bravemansgame – Paul Nicholls – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

Bravemansgame on his way to winning the Challow Hurdle
Bravemansgame on his way to winning the Challow Hurdle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The day-two opener has been dominated by Ireland in recent years, but while a strong raiding party assembled once more, Bravemansgame might just ensure this year’s renewal stays at home. An expensive purchase at £370,000, the Irish point-to-point graduate was actually beaten on his hurdling debut, but has since rattled off a hat-trick of wide-margin wins. Trainer Paul Nicholls, who has compared this five-year-old to the great Denman in terms of physique and potential, has elected to keep his charge fresh for the Festival – giving him plenty of time to recover from his latest triumph in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December. Denman actually suffered a rare defeat in this race, but Bravemansgame is fancied to prevail where the former Nicholls star did not.

Paisley Park – Emma Lavelle – Stayers’ Hurdle

Paisley Park is bidding to regain his Stayers' Hurdle title
Paisley Park is bidding to regain his Stayers’ Hurdle title (Nigel French/PA)

The three-mile hurdling championship is perhaps the only race at this year’s Festival in which the British appear to hold the aces, with the ante-post market having been dominated throughout the winter by familiar foes in Paisley Park and Thyme Hill. Paisley Park looked set to rule the division for years to come after winning this race a couple of years ago, but was found to be suffering from a heart problem when attempting to defend his crown. Such an issue may have finished lesser horses, but Lavelle’s stable star has bounced back to at least somewhere near his best this season – going down narrowly to Thyme Hill at Newbury before reversing the form in a thrilling Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. Thyme Hill sadly misses out, so while there are a couple of interesting Irish runners lurking, Paisley Park should be very hard to beat.

THE IRISH

Appreciate It – Willie Mullins – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Appreciate It after his latest victory at Leopardstown
Appreciate It after his latest victory at Leopardstown (Niall Carson/PA)

Willie Mullins has saddled four of the last eight winners of the Festival curtain-raiser and houses this year’s hot favourite in Appreciate It. Runner-up to stablemate Ferny Hollow in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago, the imposing son of Jeremy is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles this season including a pair of Grade One wins at Leopardstown. There is a suspicion the seven-year-old will want further than two miles in time, but he has proved he has enough speed to compete at the minimum distance at the top level and if the ground is on the soft side, there is every chance Appreciate It will get punters off to the perfect start.

Monkfish – Willie Mullins – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

Monkfish looks one of the bankers of this year's Festival
Monkfish looks one of the bankers of this year’s Festival (Niall Carson/PA)

Already a Festival hero having coming out on top in a four-way finish to last season’s Albert Bartlett, Monkfish has taken his game to even greater heights this term with three foot-perfect efforts over fences. Having only narrowly beaten the high-class Latest Exhibition 12 months ago, the chestnut gelding was a more authoritative winner when the pair met at Leopardstown over Christmas and left him trailing in his wake on their most recent meeting last month – a measure of Monkfish’s upward trajectory. He travels well without being keen, has jumped impeccably to date and has already proven his stamina and ability to handle the track. What’s not to like?

Chacun Pour Soi – Willie Mullins – Queen Mother Champion Chase

Chacun Pour Soi is a red-hot favourite for the Champion Chase
Chacun Pour Soi is a red-hot favourite for the Champion Chase (PA)

Day two promises to be a big one for the all-conquering Mullins team, with Chacun Pour Soi bidding to provide the winning-most trainer in Festival history with his first Champion Chase success. A late absentee last season after suffering a minor setback on the morning of the race, the nine-year-old has oozed class in three subsequent starts, most recently winning the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown for the second year in succession. With serious doubts about whether dual winner Altior can rediscover his spark, the way looks clear for Chacun Pour Soi to confirm himself as the new star of one of the most exciting divisions in the sport.

Envoi Allen – Henry de Bromhead – Marsh Novices’ Chase

Envoi Allen is poetry in motion
Envoi Allen is poetry in motion (PA)

If you were to take a poll from National Hunt fans of who they believe is the most exciting horse in training, the majority would go for Envoi Allen. And even more eyes than usual will be on him this year following his switch from Gordon Elliott. The Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding has lived up to his expensive price-tag with 11 straight wins under rules, a run which includes victories in the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. So far this season he has blown his rivals away in three starts over fences without making a semblance of a mistake in the jumping department. There is an obvious question mark in terms of how the upheaval of moving yards so close to Cheltenham will affect him, but in short, he looks a class apart.

Al Boum Photo – Willie Mullins – Cheltenham Gold Cup

Al Boum Photo after winning his second Cheltenham Gold Cup
Al Boum Photo after winning his second Cheltenham Gold Cup (Tim Goode/PA)

There is little doubt that for whatever reason, dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo is underappreciated and perhaps underrated by the racing public. He is not an outstanding physical specimen, his owners are not big talkers and he has run only four times since winning his first Gold Cup two years ago. But he has also got the job done on the biggest stage of all on a couple of occasions. Just as he has in the past two seasons, he has run just once prior to the Gold Cup – at Tramore on New Year’s Day, where there was nothing in his latest performance to suggest his powers are on the wane. Only a handful of horses have won three Gold Cups, but very few if any of Al Boum Photo’s rivals have enhanced their reputation in is absence this season. In fact, Champ apart, a few look to have gone backwards. Mullins’ charge appears ground and tactically versatile and has an excellent chance of etching his name into National Hunt folklore.

Kennedy ‘delighted’ to keep ride on Envoi Allen

Jack Kennedy has spoken of his relief at news he will keep the ride on Envoi Allen at the Cheltenham Festival, despite the unbeaten superstar being switched from Gordon Elliott to Henry de Bromhead earlier this week.

Leading owner-breeders Cheveley Park Stud removed Envoi Allen and seven of his stable companions from Elliott’s care on Tuesday, following the image involving the trainer that was posted and widely shared on social media last weekend.

Kennedy, who has taken over in the saddle from the injured Davy Russell aboard Envoi Allen this season, might have feared he would lose the plum ride on the seven-year-old to De Bromhead’s stable jockey Rachael Blackmore.

Envoi Allen has carried all before him so far
Envoi Allen has carried all before him so far (PA)

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However, Cheveley Park confirmed Kennedy will not only retain the mount when Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novices’ Chase in a fortnight’s time, but he will also partner Ballyadam and Quilixios – who have also joined Bromhead – for their respective Festival assignments.

Speaking after riding the Elliott-trained Daphne Moon to success at Fairyhouse on Friday, Kennedy told Racing TV: “I’m kind of a lucky one, getting to keep the rides on Envoi Allen, Quilixios and Ballyadam.

“When you’re riding horses like that and you’re kind of comfortable that barring an injury you’re going to be riding them, and then something like this happens, you’re kind of all over the place. I’m delighted that I’m keeping the rides on them.”

Kennedy has plenty of sympathy for his colleagues at Elliott’s Cullentra House stables, adding: “It’s tough for everyone in the yard.

“They were devastated when those horses were leaving and it’s just a massive blow to a team that work so hard.”

Minella Indo will be ridden by Jack Kennedy in the Gold Cup
Minella Indo will be ridden by Jack Kennedy in the Gold Cup (Brian Lawless/PA)

In another boost to his Festival hopes, Kennedy has been booked by De Bromhead to partner Minella Indo in the Gold Cup, with Blackmore preferring his Cheveley Park-owned stablemate A Plus Tard.

Minella Indo was last seen finishing fourth behind Kemboy when favourite for the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

“I was kind of left with no ride in the race and Henry rang me last week and asked if I would ride him,” said the jockey.

“It’s brilliant to pick up a spin like that. I was down in Henry’s on Tuesday and popped him over a few fences and got a feel of him.

“I’m really looking forward to the ride. You can forgive a horse a bad run and I’m delighted to have got the ride.”

Envoi Allen settling in after high-profile move to Henry de Bromhead

Envoi Allen is reported to be settling in well after his move to Henry de Bromhead’s yard.

The unbeaten seven-year-old is arguably the most exciting National Hunt horse in training, having twice won at the Cheltenham Festival. He is three from three over fences since switching to the larger obstacles this season.

His high-profile transfer to De Bromhead’s Waterford stable came this week, as Cheveley Park Stud moved their horses from Gordon Elliott after an image of the County Meath trainer sitting on a dead horse emerged on social media at the weekend.

Envoi Allen has been foot-perfect so far over fences
Envoi Allen has been foot-perfect so far over fences (PA)

Also now with De Bromhead from Elliott in the Cheveley silks is smart four-year-old hurdler Quilixios, who enhanced his reputation with a Grade One victory at the Dublin Racing Festival, and fellow top-level scorer Ballyadam, who was last seen finishing second to Appreciate It at Leopardstown. Jack Kennedy is the regular partner of all three, and that is set to remain the case.

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De Bromhead said: “It’s obviously not the circumstances of how you’d like to get horses, but these are the horses everyone’s trying to get and I feel fortunate that Cheveley Park have decided to send them to us. The three that are entered for Cheltenham include Envoi Allen and he seems great.

“They came down and they looked great when they arrived here, so it’s just a case of trying to tick them over and not let the change of regime upset them too much. If we can do as good a job as Gordon has done with them, we’ll be delighted.

“They arrived on Tuesday evening, and we’re just letting them settle in. They’re cantering away. You wouldn’t be working them, but they’re hacking away and they’re great.”

Quilixios is a leading contender for the Triumph Hurdle
Quilixios is a leading contender for the Triumph Hurdle (Niall Carson/PA)

Quilixios has the JCB Triumph Hurdle and the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle as options, with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle set to be preferred for Ballyadam over the Ballymore, while Envoi Allen is hot favourite for the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

De Bromhead said: “He’s a gorgeous horse and we feel very fortunate that Cheveley Park have sent him to us.

“Quilixios is in both the Fred Winter (Boodles) and the Triumph. I haven’t really firmed up on that as yet, so we’ll discuss that with Cheveley Park at the time and see what we’d like to do. He’s in both, so we’ll see nearer the time. Quilixios seems good. We’re only hacking away, but he seems to have taken it in his stride.

“I would imagine we’re leaning towards the Supreme with Ballyadam, but we’ll keep our options open.

“Jack has ridden him all year and he will ride the three of them if he is available.”

He added: “It is a big change for them and you try to keep it as simple as possible, but it is a big change.

“But they seem good and they’ve settled in really well, so we’ll just tick them over and try to get them there in good shape.”

De Bromhead looking forward to welcoming Cheveley Park team

Henry de Bromhead is looking forward to welcoming Envoi Allen to his yard following Cheveley Park Stud’s decision to take the unbeaten gelding and several of his stable companions out of training with Gordon Elliott.

Envoi Allen is arguably the most exciting National Hunt horse in training on either side of the Irish Sea, having won each of his 11 starts under rules, including back-to-back wins at the Cheltenham Festival in the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Having not put a foot wrong in three starts over fences this season, the seven-year-old will be widely considered one of the bankers of the week when he returns to the Cotswolds in a fortnight’s time for the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

However, his preparations will be completed by De Bromhead following Cheveley Park’s announcement they were removing all eight horses they had in training with Elliott following the image of the trainer which emerged on social media over the weekend.

Envoi Allen during his latest victory at Punchestown
Envoi Allen during his latest victory at Punchestown (PA)

As well as Envoi Allen, De Bromhead will receive Supreme Novices’ Hurdle contender Ballyadam and Triumph Hurdle hope Quilixios, along with Malone Road and point-to-point winner Guily Billy.

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Speaking at Gowran Park on Tuesday afternoon, De Bromhead said he was hopeful the change of yard will not be detrimental to the horses’ chances at Cheltenham – and revealed Elliott has already offered to give any advice that is required.

He said: “They are obviously very exciting horses to be getting and we appreciate Cheveley Park sending them to us.

“We’ll let them settle in and see how they are. They will have done most of their serious work up to now and I’d say it’s a case of ticking over with them now, being so close to Cheltenham.

“I haven’t spoken to Gordon as yet about the horses, but he said he’d tell me whatever I need to know. I’ll ring him soon.”

Quilixios will also join De Bromhead
Quilixios will also join De Bromhead (Niall Carson/PA)

The late additions strengthen what was already a formidable De Bromhead squad bound for Cheltenham.

The Waterford trainer’s other big hopes include Champion Hurdle favourite Honeysuckle and Cheveley Park-owned Gold Cup contender A Plus Tard.

He said: “Touch wood, all our main hopes for Cheltenham seem in good form. I worked a few this morning and all went well.”

The three other Cheveley Park-owned horses previously trained by Elliott will be moved to Willie Mullins.

Sir Gerhard looks another top-class prospect for Cheveley Park Stud
Sir Gerhard looks another top-class prospect for Cheveley Park Stud (Gary Carson/PA)

The champion trainer already handles several horses for the owners, including last year’s Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow and Ryanair Chase hope Allaho, and has picked up Sir Gerhard and a pair of expensive point-to-point recruits in Classic Getaway and Grangeclare West.

The unbeaten Sir Gerhard is second in the betting for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham behind his new stablemate Kilcruit.

Mullins said: “Sir Gerhard is a nice type and we have also got a couple of unraced individuals.

“It’s not great circumstances, but that is it.”

Cheveley Park move horses from Gordon Elliott, as date announced for hearing

Cheveley Park Stud have removed all eight horses they have in training with Gordon Elliott, while the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has announced it will convene on Friday to hear the case related to the image of the Grand National-winning trainer sitting on a dead horse.

One of the most successful breeding and ownership operations in the sport, Cheveley Park are more renowned for their success on the Flat, but have ramped up their interest in National Hunt racing in recent years and already enjoyed multiple winners at the Cheltenham Festival.

The most notable is the brilliant Envoi Allen, arguably the most exciting horse in Elliott’s yard following back-to-back Festival wins in the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in his unbeaten career to date.

However, with Elliott currently not be permitted to have runners in Britain until the conclusion of the IHRB investigation, Envoi Allen and several of his stable companions will be moved to Henry de Bromhead and Willie Mullins combined.

Cheveley Park director Richard Thompson told Sky Sports Racing: “We’ve made a decision this morning to move the horses from Gordon’s yard.

“We have eight horses (with Elliott) and they’ll go to Henry de Bromhead and Willie Mullins. That will be organised by Chris Richardson (Cheveley Park’s managing director) and the team. Logistics are in place and we’re organising it right now.”

Confirming plans for the team’s four Cheltenham Festival contenders, Thompson said Marsh Novices’ Chase favourite Envoi Allen will join De Bromhead, along with Supreme Novices’ Hurdle contender Ballyadam and possible Triumph Hurdle hope Quilixios.

Sir Gerhard, who is set to put his unbeaten record on the line in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, will be trained by Mullins, who already houses the favourite for the race in Kilcruit.

Henry de Bromhead will train Envoi Allen
Henry de Bromhead will train Envoi Allen (PA)

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Thompson is hoping any affect to the horses’ training routines, with the Festival only a fortnight away, will be minimal.

He added: “Hopefully, with trainers like Henry and Willie and the Cheveley team headed by Chris, we’ve got real professionals on the job to hopefully be able to resolve this very quickly.

“It should be very smooth. That’s what we’re hoping for. It’s just very unfortunate timing, obviously.”

Thompson feels Cheveley Park ultimately had little option but to move the horses to other yards to ensure their reputation remained intact.

Quilixios is another Grade One winner on the move
Quilixios is another Grade One winner on the move (Niall Carson/PA)

He said: “We had to consider what was happening (on Monday) with the building story and the backdrop of Cheveley’s reputation – in terms of maybe the most important British-owned racing and breeding operation in the UK.

“This reputation has been built up with various breeders and many people support us. We had to look at the situation in context of where Cheveley sit in the industry and our responsibility to the industry in Britain.

“It’s obviously very disappointing and extremely upsetting for the industry.

“People love horses and we, as a family, purchased Cheveley Park in 1975, so we’ve been racing and breeding for coming up to 46 years.

“I don’t know what the implications are longer term – I’m not close enough to the centre of the politics of racing and how it works between Britain and Ireland.

“All I know is, with my Cheveley Park Stud hat on, we had to take a decision as a board of directors to disassociate ourselves with Gordon at this time and do the right thing by the stud and by the industry.”

When asked if there was a possibility of Cheveley Park having horses with Elliott again in the long-term, Thompson added: “For the time being we’re moving the horses and that’s it.

“Obviously for Gordon, it’s a terrible time for him, but he’s made a terrible error of judgement, which he admits.

“I explained to him that we had to do the right thing by Cheveley Park and the right thing by our standing in the industry and what people expect of us.

“I’m not going to make a comment about long-term, but certainly in the short to medium term these horses will stay with Henry and Willie.”

While plans remain uncertain in such a fast-moving situation, Thompson expects Jack Kennedy to keep the ride on Envoi Allen at Cheltenham.

He said: “Envoi Allen has had Davy Russell and recently Jack Kennedy, and I personally would like to stick to continuity on retaining Davy and/or Jack, depending on injuries etc.

“With Envoi in particular, we want to stick to the previous relationships.”

Gordon Elliott faces an IHRB hearing on Friday
Gordon Elliott faces an IHRB hearing on Friday (Simon Cooper/PA)

Elliott has been “cooperating fully” with the IHRB since a photograph of him sitting on a dead horse on his gallops was posted on Twitter on Saturday night.

On Tuesday afternoon, the IHRB published a new statement on its Twitter account, which read: “The Referrals Committee of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board is scheduled to convene on Friday 5th March to hear evidence and consider an investigation relating to Mr. Gordon Elliott (Trainer).”

Michael Grassick, chief executive of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, issued a statement saying Elliott had “let down” both himself and racing, while noting a “very difficult time” for the handler.

The statement said: “The IRTA utterly condemns the image that emerged over the weekend. As one of our most prominent and successful members, Gordon has a duty of care to his horses and this great sport but he has let down both himself and horse racing.

“However, we acknowledge his apology and recognise what is a very difficult time for him both professionally and personally.”

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Favourites – Bankers or Blowouts?

Pretty much the last spectator-attended action of last year was the Cheltenham Festival and, regardless of the 20/20 hindsight about whether or not it should have had the green light for crowds, this year's event will be contested behind closed doors. That it will be contested at all, and that the entirety of the preceding seasonal narrative has played out - weather notwithstanding - is a cause for celebration during these times where not a great deal has been worthy of such emotional uplift.

With just 21 days until tapes rise for the opening skirmishes of the 2021 renewal of #CheltFest (I can hear the grinding of traditionalists' teeth as I pen that incendiary soshul shorthand!), time is nigh to fix mental bayonets and consider, in the round, what may transpire three weeks hence.

In this piece, we'll look at the shorties: those favourites whose current top quote is 5/4 or tighter. Using the age old hackney of 'banker or blowout', and mindful that for geegeez readers (and value players everywhere) the very notion of a banker is anathema, I'll offer a view as to which side of the back/lay divide I'd currently like to pitch my punting tent.

A recent history of short priced favourites at the Cheltenham Festival

First up, a short history lesson. The main lesson of history is "don't believe the hype", a message that resonates far beyond Festival jollies but which was poignantly reprised twelve months ago when, of the six favourites sent off at 5/4 or shorter, five were beaten. Ouch.

If that was a storm in the 2020 teacup, how does a more extensive tract of past performance influence our appetite for piling in at the sharp end?

As can be seen from the table and summary row above, there have been good times and bad times since 2009, with the management summary being that this is one of the less bludgeoning methods of wagering self-harm. But, of course, not all shorties are made equal; so is there anything to be gleaned from dividing what is already a very small dataset still further?

Despite the answer to that question almost certainly being 'no', for the record here are a couple of logical splits:

A lot of data manipulation and a very short read later we can now say the answer is certainly 'no'; which is unsurprising given the maturity of, and liquidity in, these markets. Nevertheless, when the media cries "certainty" and the market posits 4/6, punters are well served to beware.

The full list of qualifying runners is below, and may bring back painful memories for some, yours true included!

2021 Cheltenham Festival Shorties: Banker or Blowout

There is a quintet of ante-post shorties for this year's renewal of the Fez (yet more trads reaching for 'off' switch!) and they shape up price wise like this:

Time to consider each horse's respective merits...

Arkle Challenge Trophy: Shishkin

Form this season

Unbeaten in three facile wins in novice chases, most recently in a brace of Grade 2's, with no horse yet landing a glove on him. In spite of the small fields - he beat a trio of rivals in each - the form is solid and the times have been good. His fencing style is economical and comfortable: he has barely put a foot wrong thus far.

Shishkin is now unbeaten in seven completed starts, having fallen on his hurdling debut.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Sent off 6/1 joint-third favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year, he was hampered by a faller as the race was hotting up, but overcame that impediment to hold the late charge of Champion Hurdle fancy, Abacadabras. That was his only race at Cheltenham.

Obvious dangers

For a while this looked a matter of 'how far' assuming good health and a clear round, but the emergence of Energumene - an energumence? - as comfortably the best of the Irish has livened up the pre-race debate immeasurably.

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On form, Willie Mullins' charge is a serious threat. But he does have a lot more questions to answer: how will he handle Cheltenham? Does he need to lead and, if so, how will he handle Allmankind? If he doesn't need to lead, he has yet to prove his effectiveness from further back. And how will he handle drier ground if indeed it pans out that way?

None of these are of concern to Shishkin, who looks sure to get his favoured lead - either from Allmankind, or that one and Energumene - and who will have every chance having dealt with all underfoot terrain, longer trips, and the Cheltenham contours already.

If Energumene and Allmankind lock horns on the speed, they may both pay for those exertions in the manner that Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir did in the 2018 renewal of this race, setting things up for a 14-length rout for Footpad. Shishkin is undeniably more of a horse than Footpad, and a tear up on the front end could see him record the largest winning distance of the meeting.

But if Energumene is ridden more conservatively, there are two possible dangers. The more obvious is that, in a fair fight, the Irish raider is simply better than the domestic challenger; the less obvious is that, by marking each other, the top two grant Allmankind - a very good horse in his own right - an easy and unassailable lead.

The other fly in the Shishkin ointment is the form of the Nicky Henderson yard, on the face of it at least: a single winner since 10th February, from 28 runners, is not the sort of record a Champion Trainer needs going into the biggest gig of the year. But, of course, we're not yet at the eve of Cheltenham and, in any case, that headline figure masks what have been largely acceptable (if not altogether pleasing) efforts from his Seven Barrows squad.

A place strike rate of 36% is more compelling, and a majority of runners have performed at least close to market expectation. Notably, the big guns - Chantry House, Champ - have run very well. Still, better will have been expected overall and better will be needed if Shishkin's price is not to flirt with odds-against between now and mid-March.

Verdict

Shishkin looks a superb athlete and a very fast horse. His trainer is having a wobble just now but knows better than anyone - even Willie M - how to campaign a precocious two-mile chaser. Having ticked the race conditions boxes, and with a pace setup almost certain to play to his A game, he looks a 'banker' (relatively speaking).

*

Mares' Hurdle: Concertista

Form this season

Lightly raced, as is often the modus operandi with Willie Mullins' better mares, Concertista has run just twice this term. She beat the same mare, Minella Melody, by nearly two lengths in a Grade 2 in November and then by more than six lengths in a Grade 3 at the turn of the year.

The hallmark of those runs, and indeed her run style generally, is being held together off the pace before cruising through to prevail comfortably. In so doing it is hard to peg the level of her form exactly, always leaving the impression there is more in the tank.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Presented off a layoff of eighteen months prior to the 2019 Mares' Novices Hurdle, Concertista saw off all bar Eglantine Du Seuil as a 66/1 chance that day. She had twenty rivals behind her and only a short head to the one in front. That singular race in the 2018/19 season meant she retained her novice status the following campaign and, lining up in the same race last March, she outclassed a similar 22-strong field by an emphatic dozen lengths.

This will be her third visit to the Festival and she offers very solid credentials on that score.

Obvious dangers

It very much depends who lines up on the day. If the ground dries out, it might be that connections of Honeysuckle decide to run over this two-and-a-half mile trip rather than the extended two of the Champion Hurdle. That would change the complexion markedly.

Likewise, though to a lesser degree, if Roksana stepped this way rather than to the Stayers' Hurdle, she would present a fierce challenge.

But there is very little depth to this field beyond the aforementioned three: they bet 9/1 Dame De Compagnie (who has been chasing, has four entries, and is far from a certain runner in this), 14/1 Verdana Blue (more likely for the County Hurdle, I think), and 20/1 bar (including Elimay, who more likely goes to the Mares' Chase).

Verdict

If Honeysuckle goes to the Champion Hurdle and if Roksana goes to the Stayers' Hurdle, Concertista could be the shortest priced favourite at the meeting. If Honeysuckle comes here, she may be 4/7 or so.

This is a ground dependant conundrum: drying ground would increase the chance of Honeysuckle running here, but decrease the chance of Roksana doing likewise. Concertista is expected to run here regardless (though she is still entered in both the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Chase).

The way to play this, if you're so inclined, is to back Concertista at 6/5 and Honeysuckle at 5/4, both non-runner no bet. Most likely, you'll have 6/5 about an odds-on shot and money back on the other; second most likely is that you'll have 5/4 about a 4/7 shot and a poor value back up ticket. That may not sound exciting right now but it is odds on to look value on the day.

*

Brown Advisory (ex RSA): Monkfish

Form this season

Another Willie Mullins inmate, Monkfish has been imperious this season in brushing aside talented opposition with relish. Monkfish with relish: tasty!

Lousy puns aside, he won his beginners' chase in a canter before being merely pushed out to record a pair of Grade 1 successes in recognised trials, by three lengths and then eleven lengths from the talented Latest Exhibition. He is by some margin the pick of the Irish challengers.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Not only is Monkfish unbeaten in three chase starts this term, he is also the reigning Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle champ, earning a hard-fought verdict over... you guessed it, Latest Exhibition. That was his only visit to Cheltenham so he is unbeaten in one both at the track and at the Festival.

Obvious dangers

It is quite hard to find 'obvious' dangers to Monkfish. He has blitzed the best of the Irish this season, and he did the same to the best of the British and Irish here last season over hurdles.

Of course, he's a novice and the fences have to be jumped, so that's a possible issue.

In terms of potential rivals, Royale Pagaille has looked a mud machine this winter, but that one has numerous other possible engagements, principally the Gold Cup itself. Moreover, the two horses are in the same Ricci ownership and will surely attempt to divide and conquer.

The only other possible issue is ground: good to something would present a challenge met only once previously, when Monkfish was beaten into second on debut in a 2m2f bumper at the Punchestown Festival in May 2019.

Verdict

It's double digits bar Fishcake - as Nicky Henderson once flippantly (and very amusingly, imho) labelled the jolly - and Royale Pagaille; and, with options over longer and shorter for shying rivals, this could cut up dramatically. Monkfish looks very strong in this division.

*

Champion Chase: Chacun Pour Soi

Form this season

Three runs, three wins, in Grade 2 and Grade 1 (twice) company, beating the right horses with nonchalance. He travels like a dream, jumps very well and, if he faces the starter at Cheltenham, will have managed more runs this season than in the previous two combined.

His form this campaign is well clear of any other two mile chaser on either side of the Irish Sea.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

It was all going so well, but then... Chacun Pour Soi was pulled out at the eleventh hour last year and, as such, has yet to race outside of Ireland. That leaves question marks not just over the track but also about travelling generally: he did come over on the boat last year but was withdrawn with a foot abscess.

Whilst it may very much be a case of abscess making the heart grow fonder (sigh), it also nods to this fella's hitherto fragility. Against that we do have a trio of scores, and an absence of scares, so far this term. But we have still to conjecture about his ability to handle the idiosyncrasies of Cleeve Hill.

Obvious dangers

He himself is the obvious danger. Will he stay in one piece? Will he handle the travel? Will he handle the track?

Of the other horses in the race, each has eroded his or her case at some point: Arkle winner Put The Kettle On was bashed by Chacun, albeit after what was a very hard race at Cheltenham first up this season, and she may bounce back training up to the race; Altior is patently not the horse he was; Politologue has a rock solid Champion Chase profile but not against the calibre of CPS; and Defi Du Seuil is a binary chap, more zeros than ones in recent times.

The leftfield option is First Flow, who was exhilarating at Ascot last time. He'd need supplementing, very likely, but he'd also need to improve another eight pounds on current ratings - less likely.

Verdict

Chacun Pour Soi has to contend with himself. His form is in another postcode to his rivals in a market still trying to get him beaten with the wonderful but past his best Altior and a sizeable group of second division chasers. A horse like Fakir D'Oudairies, who is 20/1 NRNB in a place because he's more likely to fly Ryanair, might be a feasible hail mary in a race loaded with if's and but's.

Those imponderables extend to the favourite which makes him unplayable outright at the prices for all that he is the outstanding logical choice. [I did flag him in a derivative market at more appealing odds, as I don't really seeing him finishing second or third. He will win, or something will have happened between now and the finish line, is my wagering opinion.]

*

Marsh: Envoi Allen

Form this season

Three runs, three wins this campaign have meant Envoi Allen is now eleven from eleven lifetime under Rules (plus one point to point), all of them as favourite and only once at odds-against (the 2019 Cheltenham Champion Bumper). The middle leg of his 2020/21 hat-trick was a comfortable verdict in the Grade 1 Drinmore, and it was little more than a schooling round against Grade 3 rivals last time. I wasn't as impressed as some with that most recent effort for all that he still bolted up.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Two tries at the track, both at the Festival, have yielded two victories; the Bumper score was by a narrow margin, his Ballymore victory more unequivocal. He beat 13 rivals the first day and eleven the second and, well, he just keeps winning.

Obvious dangers

This looks another case of getting to the start line. Unlike CPS, EA has been slated to start twice and has started - and finished first - twice. He's had an incident-free prep thus far and has jumped really well in his three chase races to date.

Still, those fences need to be jumped, and he has to arrive pristine at Prestbury. It is hard to nominate dangers thereafter.

Verdict

The Brown Advisory would have meant a likely clash with Monkfish, the Arkle a ding dong with Shiskin, Energumene and Allmankind. The Marsh feels a bit like the coward's route for a horse boasting his CV. More generously, it is the best opportunity to extend the winning sequence.

You can bet double figures any other horse likely to run in this race - single digit quotes about Energumene and Monkfish don't even appeal NRNB especially - and there has to be some each way value, though I've yet to go through the fine detail to find it.

What is clear is that, on form, Envoi Allen is different kit.

**

Summary

Last year, five of the six horses sent off at 5/4 or shorter were beaten. This year, we look set to have at least five runners priced in that same bracket. Mishaps aside, it is hard (for me, at least) to make credible cases to oppose any of the quintet.

But mishaps do happen: in 2020, Paisley Park had a palpitation, Patrick Mullins was carelessly ejected from Carefully Selected (very harsh on the jockey, apols, poetic license for a play on words), Tiger was Roll'ed over by a heretofore unconsidered French assailant, Defi did the Defi thing, and 'mon dieu' Benie was beaten by Honey.

Any horse could come down or have a heart murmur in the heat of combat; Shishkin could get beaten by Energumene; a previously unsighted dark horse could emerge in one of the novice chases (though that feels unlikely).

In short, stuff could - and at some point probably will - happen. But I'd be hard pushed to bet against any of this quintet in the win slot if they trotted round at the start. That's my view, uncontroversial as it is. What about you? Which horse(s) would you hang your hat on? And where are you looking to get a hotpot beaten? Leave a comment and let us know.

Matt