Cheltenham: All eyes on Envoi Allen after move away from Gordon Elliott’s yard
Curragh trainer Conor O’Dwyer says change of scene shouldn’t impact horse too much
Envoi Allen has a roll around after arriving at Prestbury Park ahead of the Cheltenham Festival. Photo: Francesca Altoft/Inpho
Envoi Allen may be jump racing’s ‘beau ideal’ but selfishness might be important in his pursuit of a ‘Divine Dozen’ at Cheltenham on Thursday.
Just a few weeks ago the idea of Envoi Allen not stretching his unbeaten career record to 12 races in the Marsh Chase would have been near heresy. This was the ultimate festival banker.
Even hard-nosed professionals acclaim him as a paragon of what a jumping horse should be, his novice status no barrier to seemingly hasty comparisons with legends of the past.
Then the infamous photo of Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse emerged and suddenly Envoi Allen’s imperious progress to a third festival victory was disrupted.
Cheveley Park Stud’s decision to remove their horses from Elliott saw a switch for the model pupil to Henry De Bromhead’s yard in Co Waterford.
If there’s unanimity on one thing at this festival it is that such a disruption so close to Cheltenham is anything but perfect.
Opinions differ, though, on the extent of the effect it will have.
Numbers have been crunched and as is often the way of things thrown up evidence to back up a multitude of opinions.
If statistics suggest an overall slip in performance by horses on a first start for a new trainer, then it doesn’t take into account intangible elements such as why the horse was moved in the first place. Maybe they were on the slide anyway.
None of it can shake the suspicion that all of this mostly comes down to the individual in question.
Part of Envoi Allen’s appeal is an apparently bomb-proof temperament. But the argument goes he will have to be laid-back to the point of horizontal not to notice moving home.
Follow that up with another upset to his routine by a quick trip to Cheltenham and attention on Envoi Allen’s reaction is inevitable.
Which is where good old-fashioned self interest could come in, according to Curragh trainer Conor O’Dwyer.
“It’s not ideal, not what you’d like. But with those real good horses, good ground, bad ground, it doesn’t matter to them. To a horse of that ability, I can’t see it being a major issue.
“You see, once they’re rugged up, they’re warm, they’re fed, they’re hayed, their watered, it’s actually very few that would fret or worry about where they are,” he said.
Not that a lot of thought won’t have gone into keeping Envoi Allen’s routine as close to what he’s used to as possible. Fitness wise, a switch so close to the festival is a minor matter. It’s mainly about other tweaks.
“Basically it’s about a different environment. Henry might have outdoor stables whereas Gordon may have an indoor barn, or vice versa.
“Once the horse eats well when he gets there, that’s the main thing.
“If he goes off his food that’s a scenario you have to work around then. That means he isn’t settling in and he’s worrying. But generally speaking those geldings that have been around a bit it doesn’t really matter.
“Henry has an absolutely top class outfit. He’ll have given him time to settle in and he’ll have spoken to Gordon, maybe tried to keep him on the same feed.
“Most feed nowadays is the same. Years ago, each yard had a feed-man and he nearly fix up a different feed for each horse. Whereas now its nuts and coarse feed and it’s just different companies, whether Gain, Connollys or Red Mills. There’s not a huge amount of difference.
“Gordon feeds Gain so I would imagine Henry would try and keep him on the same feed until after Cheltenham at least,” O’Dwyer added.
‘Simple as possible’
Nevertheless De Bromhead has admitted it is a “big change” for the horses moved to him by Cheveley Park and has tried to “keep it as simple as possible.”
Ballyadam might have been a long way behind his old rival Appreciate It in Tuesday’s Supreme but wasn’t helped by a mistake at the second last. In the circumstances it was a respectable effort.
Expectations are at another level again for Envoi Allen. ‘Respectable’ isn’t good enough for a talent with so much expectation attached. Overcoming circumstances like these could only underline how exceptional he is.
“This is a horse that’s been in Colin Bowe’s, up at Gordon’s, run here there and everywhere; it’s not something I would be worried about. I certainly wouldn’t stop me backing him, or make me fancy him any less,” is O’Dwyer’s verdict.
Ultimately there would hardly be an issue at all given enough time to settle into new circumstances. But time is the one thing lacking in this case.