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Envoi Allen

Envoi Allen will put his unbeaten record on the line once again today when he lines up in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas Novices’ Hurdle, and we still don’t know how good he is or how good he can be. 

He has raced seven times, once in a point-to-point, four times in bumpers and twice over hurdles, and he has won seven times.  We don’t know where the ceiling of his ability lies.  We know what he can do, but we don’t know yet what he can’t do. 

The Muhtathir gelding has impressed in everything that he has done.  He raced in just one point-to-point, in a four-year-olds’ maiden at Ballinaboola in February 2018 for Colin Bowe and Walter Connors and, ridden by Barry O’Neill, he won it easily.  Over 11 lengths back in third place that day was the Jeremy gelding Appreciate It, then with Pat Doyle, an impressive winner of a bumper at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival last week for Willie Mullins and now towards the head of the market for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in March.

Envoi Allen was making headlines even before he raced under Rules.  Just 11 days after he won his point-to-point, he went to the Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham February sale and was bought for £400,000 by Tom Malone on behalf of Cheveley Park Stud, to be trained by Gordon Elliott.

“I thought that he was a beautiful animal,” said Tom Malone at the time.  “I was there when he won his point-to-point, and he was very very impressive.  You can’t do things like he’s done in a point-to-point unless you are exceptional.”

A price tag like that brings attention and profile and, when Envoi Allen made his racecourse debut in a bumper at Fairyhouse’s Hatton’s Grace Hurdle meeting the following December, expectation levels were high.  They sent him off the long odds-on favourite that day and, saddled by Gordon Elliott and with rider Jamie Codd wearing the famous Cheveley Park silks, he duly delivered, staying on well to win nicely.

“He’s a serious horse,” said Gordon Elliott then.  “He was very green today, but he has won well in the end and he is a really nice prospect for the future.”

He stepped up in grade then and stepped up his level of performance: a listed bumper at Navan later in December, which he won easily; the Grade 2 bumper at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival in February, where he had to battle.

He had to battle too to win the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival last March, but he did.  Held up early on by Jamie Codd and racing towards the outside, he made nice ground as they raced down the hill, moved to the front as they rounded the home turn, and stayed on strongly up the hill to repel the late challenge of Blue Sari.

“He’s an incredible horse,” said Jamie Codd afterwards.  “He’s still a big baby really.  The plan is to continue to educate him for a career over hurdles.  It’s great to be associated with such a horse.”

That was it for last season.  Gordon Elliott put him away, skipped the Punchestown Festival, readied him for his hurdling campaign this season. 

“I think he’s got stronger over the summer,” said Elliott at the start of this season.  “You’d have to be very excited about him.”

Envoi Allen made his debut over hurdles at Down Royal in early November, and he duly won easily.  Sent to the front from flagfall by Davy Russell, his jumping was very good for a debutant, and he came clear of his rivals from the second last flight.

“I was very happy with him at Down Royal,” said his trainer the following week.  “He showed a lot of pace there and he jumped very well.  He’ll go for the Royal Bond Hurdle at Fairyhouse now, so we’re looking forward to that.”

He did go to the Royal Bond Hurdle at Fairyhouse next.  He was stepping up in grade, he was taking on good novices, including a highly talented horse in his stable companion Abacadabras, who had won a Grade 3 contest and who has since won the Grade 1 Future Champions Hurdle at Leopardstown, and he beat him.

It looked like Abacadabras was travelling better at the second last flight that day, but Envoi Allen found plenty for Davy Russell, he picked up impressively and he stayed on well up the run-in.

“He’s very professional,” said Davy Russell afterwards.  “He has a lot of room for a very big engine.  I really like him.”

Envoi Allen showed lots of pace at Fairyhouse, he stamped himself as the best two-mile novice hurdler in the country in winning there, but he races as if he could be even better over further.  It will be very interesting to see how he gets on today, stepping up to two and a half miles on the racecourse for the first time. 

He will be tested in the Lawlor’s of Naas Hurdle.  It’s a deep race and, in Elixir D’Ainay and Longhouse Poet in particular, he faces two worthy adversaries.  But you can understand why Envoi Allen is odds-on favourite.  The ceiling of his ability may be a fair way off yet.

 © The Sunday Times, 5th January 2020