Cheltenham Festival clues at Warwick, Fairyhouse and Punchestown

Red-hot Marsh Novices' favourite Envoi Allen lines up at Punchestown on Sunday.
Red-hot Marsh Novices' favourite Envoi Allen lines up at Punchestown on Sunday.

Steve Chambers looks at the weekend action from Warwick, Fairyhouse and Punchestown, where Envoi Allen lights up Sunday's racing with a prep run for the Marsh Novices' Chase at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival...

On UK shores the Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick is the feature race this weekend, where some vital Grand National clues could emerge from that staying showpiece, but the undercard should provide some notable Cheltenham pointers. There's some quality action taking place in Ireland on Saturday and Sunday with Envoi Allen the obvious class act of the party, as Gordon Elliott's superstar aims to continue his magnificent winning streak, and the class act is set to strut his stuff at Punchestown on Sunday afternoon.

With two months to go until the Cheltenham Festival, horses will be beginning to have their final runs before heading to Prestbury Park between March 16-19, and we pick out some of the weekend features with one look on the spring showpiece at Cheltenham.

Warwick 13:50, Saturday (Hampton Novices' Chase)

Banging in the winners left, right and centre, Paul Nicholls is set for another productive weekend on British soil and he will unleash the exciting Next Destination in Warwick's Grade 2 Hampton Novices' Chase, which is run at 13:50 on Saturday afternoon. Third in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle last season, Next Destination then went on to win a Grade 1 event at Punchestown Festival. The Malcolm Denmark-owned nine-year-old kicked off this season with a run in the bet365 Hurdle, where he found Roksana too good, but it's over fences that he is expected to sparkle and he showed his potential when bounding to victory in the Grade 2 John Francome Novices' Chase at Newbury.

A one and a quarter length success that day was an impressive start over fences, and he is a red-hot favourite to get the better of his two rivals (Fiddlerontheroof and Golan Fortune) this weekend. He is currently around a 16/1 chance for both the Festival Novices' Chase (formerly RSA Chase) and National Hunt Chase and Nicholls will be hoping that Saturday's test can make his mind up as to where to go with his exciting novice chaser. Former Grade 1-winning hurdler Fiddlerontheroof was last seen being outclassed by Allart in the Grade 2 Noel Novices' Chase, but he has notable ability and should put some pressure on Next Destination.

A 40/1 chance for the Marsh Novices' Chase, Fiddlerontheroof could be seen to best effect over a shorter trip than Saturday's three miles, so Next Destination should make it two from two over fences. A race that has been won by the likes of Ms Parfois (2018) and OK Corral (2019), who have both competed in the National Hunt Chase at the festival, Next Destination's Cheltenham target should become a lot clearer by the end of the weekend.

Fairyhouse 14:15, Saturday (Dan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase)

Chatham Street Lad sent shockwaves around Cheltenham when storming to an emphatic 15-length win in the hugely competitive Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in December, and the Michael Winters-trained nine-year-old was touted as a potential Marsh Novices' Chase contender in the aftermath of his runaway victory. Well, Winters is looking to bag another valuable handicap chase pot on Saturday when he saddles his exciting performer in the Dan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse.

In what is always a fiercely contested event, Chatham Street Lad is dominating the betting and off a mark of 151 will have to improve again from his Cheltenham success, if he is to prevail in the Emerald Isle. Handed a 10 lb rise by the handicapper for that impressive Cheltenham victory, Chatham Street Lad was also handed quotes of 16/1 for the Marsh, where he could lock horns with fellow Irish raider Envoi Allen, who dominates the betting for the Thursday Grade 1 novice chase.

If he can win in a similar fashion to his Cheltenham success then he will have to be considered a major player in the Marsh, but with the likes of The Shunter, Entoucas and Front View all looking lively adversaries then Chatham Street Lad will have his work cut out to claim back-to-back wins, but the manner in which he cruised to success last month suggests there's a lot more to come.

Punchestown 13:20, Sunday (Killiney Novice Chase)

Undoubtedly, the star of the weekend will be the phenomenal Envoi Allen, who will look to extend his unbeaten record under Rules to eleven and duly notch up his third chasing success in Punchestown's Grade 2 Killiney Novice Chase, which takes place on Sunday afternoon 13:20. The 2019 Champion Bumper and 2020 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle champion kicked off his chasing career with a comfortable success in a beginners chase at Down Royal, but it was his win in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase that saw his stock rise further, as he annihilated his three rivals that day at Fairyhouse.

Now heading to Punchestown for another Graded contest, Gordon Elliott's seven-year-old, who is already a shade of odds-on with some bookmakers for the Marsh Novices' Chase on March 18 will look to solidify his strong position at the head of the betting with another accomplished jumping display at the weekend.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

He could face his stiffest test to date as he is set to do battle with stablemate Andy Dufresne, who is a 20/1 chance for the Marsh, while the Willie Mullins-trained Asterion Forlonge adds further depth to the race, and that Closutton inmate is between 16/1 and 33/1 for the Marsh with some firms.

Unbeaten over fences himself, Andy Dufresne has notched up wins at Navan and Limerick and will look to dish out a shock defeat to his stablemate, but Asterion Forlonge appears to be the biggest danger, as he was a classy novice hurdler last season, which culminated in a fine fourth placed finish in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and prior to that a Grade 1 win at Leopdardstown. A six-length winner at Punchestown on his chasing debut showed his potential, but he blotted his copybook last time out when falling in the Grade 1 Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick on Boxing Day.

Handed the stiffest of all tasks against Envoi Allen, Asterion Forlonge will have a gargantuan task, but he's a class act on his day and will certainly put some pressure on the dual Cheltenham Festival winner, who will be the talking horse of the entire weekend.

Cheltenham Festival Races
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