Matt Brocklebank assesses Gordon Elliott’s five star novice hurdlers and considers their Cheltenham Festival prospects.
- Sky Bet Supreme odds: 7/1
- Ballymore odds: 13/8
- Albert Bartlett odds: 33/1
- Champion Hurdle odds: 14/1
Analysis: The Champion Hurdle quote tells you just about all you need to know regarding this horse and his position in the Elliott pecking order.
Envoi Allen is top dog and has been since the start of the season having completed a perfect, and busy, bumper campaign with a fourth straight success in Cheltenham’s champion event at the Festival in March.
He’s taken to hurdling brilliantly this term and probably didn't have to improve much at all to follow up his impressive win over Abacadabras in the Royal Bond when supplementing those Grade One gains in the Lawlors Of Naas Novice Hurdle last weekend.
That was a first foray over two and a half miles since his point-to-point days and, on the face of it, he stayed the trip well. For all the clamour over a potential Champion Hurdle bid, it's arguably more realistic to consider this horse a top-class three-mile chaser for the future.
That’s not to say he won’t be aimed towards the Sky Bet Supreme instead of the Ballymore when it comes to this year’s Festival – we’ve seen plenty of subsequent star stayers thrive in the two-mile Cheltenham curtain-raiser over the years – but his next target will all but rubber-stamp connections’ intentions going forward.
Do they go for the opening event on day one at the Dublin Racing Festival (DRF) over two miles and six furlongs, opt to wait a day and drop back for the Grade One two-miler on the Sunday, or head straight to Cheltenham?
The same stable’s much-vaunted Samcro took in the two-miler (formerly the Deloitte) before winning the Ballymore, but he’d only had two spins over timber pre-Christmas whereas this horse has now had three.
Given Elliott's strength in this division in general, Envoi Allen could just be tucked away now before being unleashed again on the second Wednesday in March.
- Possible next run: Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Cheltenham Mar 11
- Possible Cheltenham target: Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Cheltenham Mar 11
- Sky Bet Supreme odds: 7/2
- Ballymore odds: 25/1
- Albert Bartlett odds: 25/1
Analysis: This lad looks a little easier to weigh up as he’s all speed and already fairly cramped odds for the Sky Bet Supreme, which looks a natural fit.
He came up a fraction short on the bumper scene last season but did travel noticeably well for a long way en route to ending up fourth behind Envoi Allen at Cheltenham last March.
That relatively weak finishing effort up the final hill would be at the back of your mind if he heads back to the Festival at a short price, but he simply looks a more fully furnished model this time around.
He’s three from four over hurdles, the only defeat coming at the hands of his old foe and stablemate in the Royal Bond where he was a fine second in the circumstances (Envoi Allen got first run).
After subsequently breaking his duck at the highest level in Leopardstown’s Future Champion Novice Hurdle on December 27, jockey Jack Kennedy noted Abacadabras’ hurdling technique still has room for improvement so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him given more match-practice.
That’s highly likely to come over the same course and distance at the DRF next month in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle, won last year by subsequent Supreme hero Klassical Dream.
- Possible next run: Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle, Leopardstown Feb 2
- Possible Cheltenham target: Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Cheltenham Mar 11
- Sky Bet Supreme odds: 16/1
- Ballymore odds: 10/1
- Albert Bartlett odds: NA
Analysis: Envoi Allen and Abacadabras have the Grade Ones in the bag already but it looks a matter of time before Easywork is pitched in at that level.
Before that, it could be this Sunday’s Grade Two Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, which would be an interesting move as it would represent a drop back to two miles.
It’s a switch that worked wonders for last year’s Moscow Flyer winner, the Elliott-trained Felix Desjy, while Willie Mullins’ Getabird took top spot at Punchestown two years ago having previously run over two and a half miles as well.
Easywork will be lining up on the back of a seriously impressive, 22-length victory at Limerick in the Signsplus Hurdle, a race in which Felix Desjy was only second, and he essentially looks a young horse on a really steep upward trajectory.
He’s pretty headstrong – he has worn a hood for all three hurdle starts this term – but that’s quite typical of his sire Network’s progeny; think Sprinter Sacre, Le Richebourg, Rubi Light, Delta Work, Acapella Bourgeois among others.
They’re all pretty keen but all pretty classy too and Easywork has inherited tons of ability.
He’s 16/1 generally for the Sky Bet Supreme, a price that could completely crash if justifying favouritism in good style back over the minimum trip this weekend.
- Possible next run: Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, Punchestown Jan 12
- Possible Cheltenham target: Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Cheltenham Mar 10
- Sky Bet Supreme odds: 25/1
- Ballymore odds: 14/1
- Albert Bartlett odds: 16/1
Analysis: Andy Dufresne is on a retrieval mission – in search of redemption if you prefer – following last month’s odds-on defeat at the hands of Latest Exhibition.
His career had been moving along swimmingly prior to that latest effort, having won a point, a bumper and a maiden hurdle barely turning a hair.
Stamina didn't look to be his undoing in the Grade Two Navan Novice Hurdle and perhaps he just bumped into a very smart horse. But there’s plenty about him which suggests he could thrive over a strongly-run two miles and it will be interesting to see if Elliott runs him over that distance against Easywork on Sunday.
A lot clearly hinges on his next start and if connections sit tight and wait to send him for the Grade One at Leopardstown next month then he’ll qualify for a handicap mark, which could open up some interesting possibilities come the spring.
- Possible next run: Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, Punchestown Jan 12
- Possible Cheltenham target: Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle, Cheltenham Mar 13
- Sky Bet Supreme odds: 33/1
- Ballymore odds: 33/1
- Albert Bartlett odds: 10/1
Analysis: If Envoi Allen is kept fresh for Cheltenham, the DRF’s big novice hurdle over two miles, six furlongs looks absolutely made for Fury Road.
He’s a strapping son of Stowaway and hits the ground pretty hard but he’s already shown he can handle all types of conditions and Davy Russell was keen to stress the horse’s versatility as one of his strong suits after making it three from three over hurdles at Limerick on December 27.
He made a complete mess of the last flight there but he’d looked very smart up to that point and still had it in him to recover and win by a cosy length.
That Grade Two event over Christmas has been a very good springboard over the years, won by subsequent Albert Bartlett winners Martello Tower (2014) and Penhill (2016), while 2013 victor Faugheen scored en route to taking the Ballymore, and Delta Work was second to Fabulous Saga in 2017 before winning the Pertemps.
Fury Road has a massive future over fences all being well and if you're keen on him for Cheltenham this year then at least Thyme Hill’s presence at the top of the betting is holding everything else's price up.
Should Philip Hobbs’ horse go for the Ballymore over the Albert Bartlett, Elliott could end up with yet another Festival hotpot on his hands.
- Possible next run: Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50,000 euros Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle, Leopardstown Feb 1
- Possible Cheltenham target: Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, Cheltenham Mar 13