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Cheltenham Countdown | Can Envoi Allen, Shishkin & Monkfish succeed?

In his first look ahead to the Cheltenham Festival, on OTB AM on Thursday, Thom Malone had a look...


Cheltenham Countdown | Can Envoi Allen, Shishkin & Monkfish succeed?

In his first look ahead to the Cheltenham Festival, on OTB AM on Thursday, Thom Malone had a look at the novice chasers where Envoi Allen, Shishkin, and Monkfish head the respective markets.

Envoi Allen will put his unbeaten record on the line in the Marsh Novices Chase. The horse is a perfect 11 from 11 in all disciplines thus far and his limits look unlikely to be exposed any time soon.

Gordon Elliott’s unbeaten star, while already a Grade One winner over fences looked to be facing his stiffest chasing task at Punchestown last weekend. However, that challenge never materialised with Asterion Forlonge falling at the first obstacle effectively ending the contest as a spectacle as Envoi Allen duly made all with minimal fuss.

Cheltenham prices

In the market for the Marsh, Envoi Allen is odds-on, even money with two English bookmakers, adding to the partisan nature of the Festival. While the rest of the potential runners are all priced at double-figure odds. The presence of Envoi Allen could scare away much of the relevant competition, especially from smaller yards.

Most of the Willie Mullins entries have multiple entries across the novice races and it is always dangerous to second guess the master trainer’s running plans. However, when looking through them, Asterion Forlonge is not a natural jumper and another blip would surely rule him out of the Festival chases. Colreevy looks a good thing for the new Mares’ chase, Energumene will hopefully go to the Arkle to put it up to Shishkin.

So of the Willie Mullins runners likeliest to challenge Envoi Allen, Franco de Port fits the bill. He was a winner over a shorter trip at Christmas when Bryan Cooper let the race break apart in front of him. He capitalised on others going too hard in front and looks one who could try similar tactics again in Cheltenham.

Envoi Allen will be the Irish banker of the meeting, the hangover cure on the day after another virtual St Patrick’s Day parade. Realistically despite the 47 entries, Envoi Allen will scare many of them away.

One horse who will not be scared away is the Dan Skelton trained Shan Blue. He was a very slick jumping winner at Kempton of the Kauto Star at Christmas. Shan Blue will provide Envoi Allen with an unprecedented test of jumping at speed.

Thus far, Envoi Allen has dictated in each of his chase starts with no pressure being put on his jumping. He has been foot perfect, but some of that can be attributed to being allowed to perform at his leisure.

Shan Blue will jump out and ensure a true test of jumping and stamina as he drops back in trip for Cheltenham, having won over three miles on the flat Kempton track at Christmas. Harry Skelton will not let up in front and ensure a true test for Envoi Allen, as an each-way bet, he appeals at 14/1.

Envoi Allen is a very worthy short-priced favourite, but of the potential opposition Shan Blue, Franco de Port and his stablemate Andy Dufresne are three horse that could capitalise should the winning streak come to an end.

Arkle Chase

If Envoi Allen is the Irish banker then Shishkin possibly fills that role for British punters. Nicky Henderson’s 2020 Supreme Hurdle winner was perfect on both of his chasing starts and will have another run before taking in the Arkle, most likely at Newbury as Altior did in 2017.

There is everything to like about what Shishkin has done so far but unlike in the case of the Marsh Chase, the opposition looks deeper. Willie Mullins has a brilliant record in the race, winning four of the last six runnings, with most of us still wondering how Champagne Fever got beaten in 2014.

Mullins has half a dozen entries, Energumene is the shortest price of those and had the clock watchers salivating when giving Captain Guinness a ready beating at Naas.

Felix Desjy and Darver Star blotted their copybooks at Christmas when beaten by Franco de Port. Both horses were ridden unforgivingly that day and after the Dublin Racing Festival, both could shorten in price for this race. As a more consistent sort who placed in a Champion Hurdle, Darver Star at 25/1 NRNB is a more attractive betting proposition.

Again a Dan Skelton horse, Allmankind will make sure it is a thorough test of jumping and looks likely to fire off in front. This will suit Shishkin but with a little restraint, Darver Star could also benefit.

Cheltenham Festival Novices’ Chase

Staged over an extended three miles, the Willie Mullins trained Monkfish is favourite for the Festival Novices’ Chase, formerly known as the RSA Chase.

Monkfish is one of four entries for Willie Mullins. The seven-year-old is already a winner at the Festival, having taken the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2020.
The horse has been well touted including at a pre-season virtual stable tour with Patrick Mullins.
"He's 16.3, he's really filled into his frame Monkfish is as exciting a novice chaser as we have in the yard" said the Champion Amateur rider.
With Shan Blue only entered for the Marsh the next in the market are, Latest Exhibition who was soundly beaten by Monkfish at Christmas. Next Destination, his former stablemate, now with Paul Nicholls. Chatham Street Lad who will go for a handicap and The Big Breakaway who didn't jump well at Kempton, most likely as a result of the fluency of Shan Blue.
Aside from Next Destination who looks a dour stayer, one Gordon Elliot charge who could get involved is Pencilfulloflead, who has form lines that tie him closely to Monkfish. This son of Shantou has always looked better over further and whether he lines up here or the National Hunt Chase 16/1 is a fair price NRNB.

National Hunt Novices’ Chase

The G2 National Hunt Novices’ Chase takes place over three miles and six furlongs on Tuesday, 16 March.
Gordon Elliott has landed the contest four times, including with the legendary dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll in 2017 and last year with Ravenhill. He has the most entries of any trainer this year, seven, which are headed by Galvin. The horse is a deserved favourite as a second-season novice and is a Cheltenham winner last year.

One that looked in need of the trip when winning last time out is Longhouse Poet. Maybe he is no star but stamina is the key ingredient to winning this race while a top jockey is too. Derek O’Connor has ridden the horse in the past and if there is a bit of rain at Cheltenham that will help too.

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Arkle Cheltenham Envoi Allen Gordon Elliott Leopardstown Monkfish Paul Nicholls Shishkin Willie Mullins