Envoi Allen enters Champion Hurdle picture after Royal Bond success
Trainer Gordon Elliott describes latest novice star as ‘the real thing’
Davy Russell riding Envoi Allen (left) clears the last to win The baroneracing.com Royal Bond Novice Hurdle from Abacadabras and Jack Kennedy (maroon cap) at Fairyhouse. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Gordon Elliott believes Envoi Allen is “the real thing” and bookmakers agree with him to the extent of making the unbeaten novice star only 8-1 for this season’s Champion Hurdle.
Envoi Allen was also cut to favourite for two novice events at the Cheltenham Festival in March after an impressive defeat of his stable companion Abacadabras in Sunday’s Bar One Royal Bond Hurdle at Fairyhouse.
In normal circumstances the 2-1 about him for the Ballymore Novice Hurdle would look a straightforward option.
Forced to make most of the running on Sunday, it was at the end of the two miles that Envoi Allen looked most in control, prompting inevitable suggestions that the former point-to-point winner will come into his own over further.
Afterwards, though, jockey Davy Russell indicated we may be dealing with an unusually versatile talent and pointed out about the strapping five-year-old: “He has a lot of room for a very big engine.”
In the context of an already comparatively threadbare-looking championship picture – one further reduced by a potential season-ending injury for Buveur D’air on Saturday – Envoi Allen appeals as a rare youngster capable of filling the void.
Russell added: “He’s just very professional. I really like him. The public have got behind him too and he’s very popular. It must be all the ‘ones’ beside his name!”
The last novice to win the Champion Hurdle was Make A Stand in 1997.
If the history books are littered with other young stars who failed to deliver on their potential, then it hasn’t prevented lots of seasoned observers from pinning their Cheltenham hopes in Envoi Allen whatever race he eventually lines up in.
Against that though is Elliott’s pedigree when it comes to accurately pinpointing just what the ‘real thing’ is. It was after a Fairyhouse bumper that the trainer famously declared his subsequent Gold Cup hero Don Cossack to be an ‘aeroplane’.
He’s usually more circumspect about praising his best young talent these days but Envoi Allen, who ultimately won by a length and a half at 8-11 odds, is clearly held in the highest regard.
Next start “We like Abacadabras a lot and we think Envoi Allen is the real thing,” Elliott said with a notable lack of ambiguity.
“The one thing that could beat him is a slow pace and we had to do all our own donkey work. His jumping was class apart from the last.
“He could step up in trip but I’ll talk to Davy and the owners and we’ll make our minds up. He’ll be entered in everything and could run next at Christmas or Naas [Lawlors Novice Hurdle], ” he added.
Elliott’s determination not to look beyond a next start is no doubt sound, a lesson hard-leaned over the years, none more so than with a previous “next big thing” Samcro.
At the start of last winter a Champion Hurdle victory was widely touted as being a mere stepping stone towards Gold Cup glory and much else besides.
A lung infection brought all that hype crashing down and, after an exciting debut over fences a month ago, Samcro fans were again brought back to earth on Sunday when he exited the Drinmore Novice Chase at the second last.
Whether Samcro would have emerged best over the 6-4 favourite Fakir D’oudairies was a question widely asked among the Winter Festival crowd and which will never have an answer.
It appeared to be the case though that Samcro was travelling slightly better than his freewheeling rival and the sight of Jack Kennedy punching the ground in frustration suggests a jockey who’d fancied his chances.
It was all moot to the winner’s camp who were enjoying a spectacular displaying of jumping by the first ever four-year-old winner of the Drinmore.
“I’m delighted with our horse. He has a fantastic aptitude for racing. Every day he’s enthusiastic about his work and his schooling,” said his trainer Joseph O’Brien.
“Mark [Walsh] says he really attacks his fences. He loves it, but is measured as well. It’s a pity Samcro didn’t stand up because it was looking as if it was going to be a great race.”
Tactical race O’Brien had earlier saddled a one-two in
the Grade Three Juvenile Hurdle as Robbie Power on Cerberus got the better of Walsh on the other 5-4 joint-favourite A Wave Of The Sea. The winner got 20-1 Triumph Hurdle quotes afterwards although both could prove contenders at the top level of the four-year-old ranks.
“Probably the quicker horse won a tactical race. He’s very quick though the air and always very accurate,” said O’Brien of a winner owned by a syndicate containing Irish rugby international Tadhg Furlong and Kilkenny hurler Walter Walsh.
“They will probably both go to Leopardstown and stamina will come more into play there. This place always favours a bit of speed and that ground isn’t too bad,” O’Brien added.
He completed a hat-trick in the finale as Eric Bloodaxe got the better of the odds-on Ferny Hollow in the bumper.