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Marsh Novices' Chase Ante-Post preview: Envoi Allen impossible to oppose

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Posted in: Cheltenham Festival News

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Timeform's John Ingles look ahead to the 2021 Marsh Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and picks out the best bet.

Who will want to take on Envoi Allen? Finding potential rivals for the unbeaten seven-year-old in what has long been his stated target at the Cheltenham Festival is hard enough, let alone one capable of beating him. The intermediate distance of the Marsh means that any would-be challengers have alternatives either up or down in trip to avoid him. Envoi Allen’s 11-race unbeaten record under Rules has seen him through two Cheltenham Festivals already, with victories in the Champion Bumper in 2019 and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle last year. Chasing was always the main aim for him, though, and his three wins over fences have only served to make him look more invincible than ever. His jumping has been impeccable, and he has won with plenty in hand each time this season, most recently when conceding 11 lb to a useful rival in Fils d’Oudairies in the Killiney Novices’ Chase at Punchestown.


Shan Blue is also unbeaten in three chases this season and will be one of Envoi Allen’s more interesting rivals. While his last two wins have come over three miles, the manner of his all-the-way success in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton last time led to Dan Skelton nominating a drop back in distance for him at the Festival. He travelled strongly in the lead at Kempton, going harder than ideal if anything, and it was only his superior jumping in the closing stages which enabled him to hold on. Shan Blue has left his hurdling form behind over fences this season, though he has the best part of 30 lengths to find with Envoi Allen after finishing sixth behind him in the Ballymore.


Willie Mullins has his usual strong team of novice chasers, though presumably the likes of Energumene and Monkfish will be aimed at other Festival targets. That could leave Franco de Port as one of his leading contenders. Franco de Port won the Grade 1 Racing Post Novices’ Chase over two miles and a furlong at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting to make it two from two over fences, but, rather than an Arkle contender, he shaped as though the extra distance of this contest would suit him better – he seemed amiss in the Coral Cup when tried at the trip last season.


Likewise Nicky Henderson has a few to choose from as possible challengers to Envoi Allen. The lightly-raced Allart took a while for his jumping to warm up on his chasing debut in the Noel Novices’ Chase at Ascot before Christmas but he looked an exciting prospect in beating the smart Fiddlerontheroof and should be up to adding to that success before the Festival. Fusil Raffles has more chasing experience, winning three of his four races before the turn of the year, and he successfully stepped up in trip for his latest victory at  Cheltenham, but it was a far from convincing performance as he profited from the long-time leader folding well inside the final furlong. If anything, stablemate Chantry House shaped better in the same race although beaten at odds on and last of the three finishers. However, that effort called his stamina into question for two and a half miles, at least on soft ground.


Besides the favourite, Gordon Elliott could also be represented by Andy Dufresne, another who has made a good start to his chasing career by winning both his starts at around two miles. The last of those came in the Klarion Davis Novices’ Chase at Navan (runner-up Embittered only fourth to Franco de Port at Leopardstown next time) when keeping on well as though a return to two and a half miles will suit. But Elliott’s best chance lies with Envoi Allen who looks impossible to oppose.


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