Monkfish and Envoi Allen set to face off at Punchestown
Rachael Blackmore could make up ground on Paul Townend in jockeys’ championship
Envoi Allen ridden by Davy Russell on the way to winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) at Cheltenham in 2020. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Thirty-five years after Punchestown staged the ultimate head-to-head, a clash between Monkfish and Envoi Allen on Tuesday could prove one to savour.
The outstanding young stars line up for the four-runner Dooley Group Novice Chase in which Monkfish’s two Grade 1 winning stable companions, Colreevy and France De Port, are mostly regarded as bit players.
Such presumption can bite back with a vengeance, just as anticipation of any long-awaited duel is liable to fall flat.
Back in January the eagerly anticipated prospect of Envoi Allen conceding 11lbs to Asterion Forlonge lasted only until the latter fell at the first.
At that point Envoi Allen was the sport’s undisputed next big thing.
But after losing his unbeaten run with a dramatic fall at Cheltenham he now has more to prove than simply tackling three miles for the first time.
He is also ridden by Rachael Blackmore for the first time and faces the prospect of not starting favourite for the first time in his 12-race career to date.
That’s because since January Monkfish has taken a grip on the public imagination too, including when doing an awful lot wrong at Cheltenham before ultimately winning with an authority that makes him 4-1 favourite for next year’s Gold Cup.
That’s ahead of the current blue riband hero Minella Indo who is under pressure for second-favourite status from Envoi Allen.
It reflects the impression made to date by two outstanding prospects who in theory at least could provide a Punchestown match to rival the legendary head-to-head between Dawn Run and Buck House in 1986.
On that occasion the proven stayer won out over an intermediate trip and that appears to be a clear positive in the tick box for Monkfish’s chances compared to his big rival.
Although Henry De Bromehad has reported Envoi Allen to have schooled well since his Cheltenham mishap there is always a niggle about horses coming back from a spill.
How Blackmore clicks with her new mount will be fascinating as Monkfish’s wayward passage through the Brown Advisory at Cheltenham suggests Paul Townend will have to have his wits about him.
It’s worth keeping in mind too that Colreevy emerges just ahead on official figures taking her 7lb sex allowance into account.
This may be her career swansong before going to stud and she could relish going further than she ever has before.
However, expectations for both Monkfish and Envoi Allen are such it will be a major letdown for many if they don’t fight out a memorable finish.
If they do, Monkfish’s proven stamina may prove decisive.
Just two rides on Wednesday suggest Townend is keeping his powder dry for the Grade 1s this week following his foot injury.
That might provide a chink of light to Blackmore in the race for the jockeys’ championship and her handful of rides on Tuesday also include Champagne Gold in the Minella Indo colours in a handicap hurdle.
Blackmore also teams up with Edward O’Grady for the Dundalk all-weather winner Top Line Tommy in the opener.