Leading Irish racing expert Donn McClean looks at the recent action featuring Envoi Allen, Energumene and Aramax.
Bob Olinger: Ballymore Novices' Hurde
Aramax: Grand Annual Handicap Chase
Pure Genius: Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle
We didn’t learn anything new about Envoi Allen at Punchestown on Sunday really, which was a pity. We thought that we would. In Asterion Forlonge, he was taking on a horse who was officially rated just 6lb his inferior over hurdles, and he had to concede 11lb to him. He was set for the sternest challenge yet of his chasing career. Alas, the grey horse’s involvement in the contest lasted only until the first fence, at which he got in tight and came down.
It was a case thereafter of, once again, Envoi Allen doing all that he needed to do, but again he impressed. His jumping was accurate and fluent, and he retained concentration despite the potential distractions of two loose horses around him. As well as that, he came away from the talented Fils D’Oudairies when Joseph O’Brien’s horse challenged him at the final fence, and he won easily, once again leaving the impression that he had plenty more left to give.
You can pick holes in the bare bones of Envoi Allen’s chase form if you want. You can point to the fact that the four horses that he beat in his beginners’ chase at Down Royal have run, collectively, nine times since, and they have registered just one win between them, and that the three horses who chased him home in the Drinmore Chase were all beaten next time. But you can only ever beat what they put in front of you, and that is what Gordon Elliott’s horse keeps doing.
The Cheveley Park Stud’s horse has never been beaten. One point-to-point, four bumpers, four hurdle races, three chases, 12 wins. He does everything with ease and, when he has to battle, like in the Royal Bond Hurdle, like in the Champion Bumper, he has battled. He jumps his fences with fluency and accuracy, and he appears to have the mental attitude to go with his physical ability. We still don’t know where the ceiling of his ability lies.
A half an hour later, Dreal Deal sprang a surprise in winning the Grade 2 Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Hurdle. A market drifter, from morning prices of 5/1 and 6/1 to an SP of 22/1, Ronan McNally’s horse stayed on best of all for Denis O’Regan to hit the front on the run-in and win going away.
It is another chapter in the remarkable Dreal Deal story. It is only a couple of months since the Arvico gelding won a handicap hurdle off a mark of 84 and a flat handicap off a mark of 45. And now here he is, winning the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Hurdle, a race that has been won in the past by Vautour and Douvan and Min.
His trainer said afterwards that he would probably go for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but that maybe he would go for the Ballymore. He will probably have to improve by another 10lb in order to be competitive in one of the Grade 1 novice hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival, but he has earned his shot at a Grade 1 race now.
Bob Olinger earned his shot at a Grade 1 contest when he danced in in his maiden at Navan in December, and Henry de Bromhead’s horse duly delivered in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Hurdle at Naas on Wednesday.
Winner of his only point-to-point for Pat Doyle, and an impressive winner of his bumper at Gowran Park last March on his debut under Rules, the Sholokov gelding ran Ferny Hollow to a length on his hurdling bow back at Gowran Park in November before easily landing his maiden at Navan. He was obviously stepping up in grade at Naas on Wednesday, but he has always been highly regarded, and he took a big step towards realising his potential with a polished performance.
His task was rendered easier than it might have been when the Grade 2 Navan Hurdle winner Ashdale Bob departed at the second flight, but there was a lot to like about the manner in which the Robcour gelding travelled through his race for Rachael Blackmore, and he came away from Blue Lord and Gabynako on the run-in. It looks like he will go straight to the Ballymore Hurdle now, and he should be a big player in that race.
Blue Lord did well too to keep on as well as he did to finish second. Willie Mullins’ horse raced keenly for most of the race, and those exertions probably took their toll in the closing stages. Winner of a two-mile maiden hurdle at Punchestown on his first run in Ireland, there is plenty of stamina in his pedigree, he is from the family of Grand National runner-up Mely Moss, and he could improve significantly on this performance when he learns to settle better.
Energumene was an impressive winner of the two-mile novices’ chase. Bounced out in front by Paul Townend, his jumping was very good, and he kept on strongly over the final fence and up the run-in, coming away from his only real challenger Captain Guinness.
A point-to-point winner and a bumper winner and a maiden hurdle winner, Willie Mullins’ horse had been impressive in landing his beginners’ chase at Gowran Park on his chasing bow in November over two and a half miles, but he proved here that he could be as effective over two miles, at least on heavy ground. He beat a highly talented horse in Captain Guinness on merit, and he clocked a good time, some eight seconds faster than the time that the progressive Epson Du Houx clocked in winning the handicap chase a half an hour later.
Tony Bloom’s horse still has to prove that he can be as good on better ground at a high level, but he did win his point-to-point on ground that was described as good, and he won his bumper on yielding ground at Thurles last January. It looks like he is bound for the Arkle now.
It may pay to retain faith in Captain Guinness too. Henry de Bromhead’s horse was only second best here, but it was effectively just his second chase and just his fifth race ever under all codes. He has only just turned six, he still has lots of potential for progression, and it may be that he will be seen to better effect on better ground.
It looked like Youmdor was coming to take Teahupoo’s measure as they raced to the final flight in the juveniles’ hurdle at Fairyhouse on Saturday, but he clipped the top of the obstacle and came down. It is impossible to know for sure how it would have panned out, but Youmdor hit 1.03 in-running while Teahupoo reached a high of 46, so the market obviously thought that Willie Mullins’ horse was the most likely winner at the point of his departure.
They are there to be jumped though, and it was a fine performance by Teahupoo on his first run for Gordon Elliot and Robcour. A winner over hurdles in France in October, he should be able to progress from this. Youmdor is more experienced, he won twice on the flat in France for Freddy Head, and he was impressive in winning his maiden hurdle at Gowran Park in November on his first run for Willie Mullins. The pair of them had pulled clear of their rivals by the time they reached the final flight.
Interestingly, Aramax finished third in this race last year and Veneer Of Charm finished second in it in 2018, and they both won the Fred Winter Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival two months later.
Speaking of Aramax, he ran out a good winner of the two-mile beginners’ chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday. Held up early on and racing towards the outside, JP McManus’ horse made good ground for Keith Donoghue on the run to the home turn, travelled well into the home straight, and stayed on well from the second last fence to get the better of Port Stanley, the pair of them finishing nicely clear of their rivals.
Well beaten in his first two runs over fences, Gordon Elliott had given him a nice break since he was beaten at Tipperary on October and, fitted with a tongue-tie on Saturday for the first time, he stepped forward nicely. The fact that he has winning Cheltenham Festival form will obviously be a big asset to take back to the Festival if he goes there this year, with the Grand Annual an obvious option.
Finally, Pure Genius ran out an impressive winner of the three-mile maiden hurdle at Punchestown on Monday. Ted Walsh’s horse had some good form in maiden hurdles last season, including a close-up third behind the stable companions Port Stanley and Lynwood Gold at Naas last February, but his first two runs this season had come up short. Stepped up significantly in trip on Monday, he was quickly into a nice rhythm in front for Mark Walsh, and he came home a distance clear of his main rival Fantasio D’Alene.
The last two renewals of this race were won by Column Of Fire and Dallas Des Pictons, who both ran big races in the Martin Pipe Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and that race could be an option now for Pure Genius. And it may pay to give another chance to Fantasio D’Alene, who was reported to have blood in the trachea on endoscopic examination post-race.
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