Cheltenham Races

Five Things We Learned: Envoi Allen looks the real deal

Envoi Allen was an impressive winner on hurdling debut at Down Royal on Saturday.
Envoi Allen was an impressive winner on hurdling debut at Down Royal on Saturday.

Joe Tuffin picks out five key talking points from an action-packed weekend of Jumps action, which included Graded action on both sides of the Irish Sea...

Lady Buttons is a horse to follow once again

Phil Kirby’s stable star Lady Buttons stole the show on the Saturday of Wetherby’s bet365 Charlie Hall meeting, as she cruised into the lead to claim the listed Mares Hurdle in front of her local fans. 

‘Buttons’ as she is affectionally known as at Green Oaks where she is trained, was something of a revelation last season as she claimed two Listed honours and a Grade 2 win to boot, as well as a very respectable fourth in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.    

Her seasonal debut was as impressive as we’ve seen from the nine-year-old mare, successfully defending her listed Mares’ Hurdle crown by one-and-three-quarter lengths – although she was virtually walked across the line – and she definitely looks like one to keep on side going forward. Kirby hinted at a similar programme to last season, so expect to see her back at Doncaster defending her Listed and Graded belts over both hurdles and the larger fences.

Envoi Allen checks all the boxes for Cheltenham success

Envoi Allen’s hurdles debut was everything we could have hoped for and more. The five-year-old took to obstacles like a duck to water, running a lonely race out in front, where he didn’t see one of his 16 other opponents for all of the extended two miles.

Gordon Elliot’s exciting gelding is yet to taste defeat in six starts (five under Rules), and a performance similar to Saturday would put him on the right track to defending that faultless form line.

He has since been cut to as short as 3-1 for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the festival – the rest of the field larger than 16s – and at this stage it is hard to envisage anything getting within two lengths of the Cheveley Park-owned star. It is still early days and the reappearances of other exciting bumper horses such as the Willie Mullins-trained Blue Sari are eagerly anticipated as we search for another horse with Ballymore credentials, but this possible superstar could not have made a finer first impression. 

Expect an even better season from Road To Respect

Having successfully defended his Ladbrokes Champion Chase crown on Saturday afternoon, Road To Respect was shortened to 10-1 (From 20-1) for the Ryanair Chase at the Festival, and was also introduced into the Gold Cup market at 16-1. The Down Royal showpiece was one of the races of the weekend as Noel Meade’s eight-year-old eyeballed English raider Clan Des Obeaux on the run-in, pulling clear in the closing stages. 

Last season’s 16-length-success certainly turned heads, but the standard of the opposition was not far past mediocre. This time around he took on the aforementioned King George VI Chase winner and one of last season’s most exciting novice chasers in Delta Work to boot, and is sure to be improving still. He may not have some of the all-important ‘wow factor’ possessed by only a few in the game, but he’s not one to underestimate and you’d be foolish to disregard him from the big Grade 1 contests this season.

Get excited about Lostintranslation

Carlisle racegoers were treated to a near-perfect round of jumping from one of last season’s most promising recruits to chasing. Lostintranslation made his seasonal reappearance in the listed Colin Parker Memorial Chase and looked as if he was having the time of his life as he soared over every fence, barely touching a twig. As soon as I saw him take off at the open ditch, I said we would be seeing that all over twitter as a GIF and rightfully so, it was the equine equivalent of an Olympic level long jump performance. It was the sort of round of jumping that you use as a benchmark for how a chaser should attack the obstacles, see Altior’s 2019 Celebration Chase or more impressively the unfairly overlooked round of jumping by Sceau Royal in the 2018 Shloer Chase for evidence. Admittedly, the opposition was nothing to write home about and that was reflected by his starting price of 2/1-on, but it wasn’t about that. This was all about his aerial quality in what was effectively a public schooling session, and he gets an A* from me.

La Bague Au Roi underwhelms in the Charlie Hall

The Charlie Hall Chase was a mouth-watering affair on paper, but I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by the end result. Take nothing away from the winner, who didn’t put a foot wrong and deservedly bagged the Wetherby showpiece, but I cannot see Ballyoptic going on to claim higher honours, and that’s what I like to see in the Charlie Hall. I like to see a horse in which you look back on once they’ve secured numerous Grade 1s and say; ‘That Charlie Hall win was the springboard to their success’. 

Of course, that would mean the life of a racehorse represents more of a Hollywood script than an unpredictable, multiple race-winning career with several different variables, but in this particular scene the lead actress failed to turn up, popping the theoretical-atmosphere-filled-balloon.

La Bague Au Roi was well-fancied on Saturday, opening at 6-1 before being backed into 5-2 favouritism, but she never looked happy during the three-mile trip and was pulled up three from home when completely out of the picture. The ground is a possible excuse – two of her worst finishes have came on bottomless ground similar to what was seen at Wetherby – but it was the lack of fluency in the air that was the most concerning. Let’s hope she just needed the run as she is a classy mare with bags of potential, but a big statement might be needed next time out if she is to maintain her superstar status.

Chris Baker's Tips
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