A tilt at the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle remains the preferred target for the unbeaten Envoi Allen, although ground conditions are likely to play a part in his ultimate Cheltenham Festival goal.
The six-year-old boasts a perfect record of seven wins in as many lifetime starts in point-to-points, bumpers and hurdles, including three Grade One wins along the way.
Victorious in last season’s Champion Bumper, Envoi Allen has hit the mark at the highest level over both two and two and a half miles this term, giving Gordon Elliott and connections the option to run in the shorter Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle should the going be testing.
Envoi Allen is also entered in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, but Elliott believes a crack at the championship event looks unlikely for the Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding.
The trainer said: “If the ground came up heavy, I wouldn’t rule out him running in the Supreme, but at the moment he’ll go in the Ballymore. I’d say it’s almost certain that he’ll stay in novice company.
“He is in good form. Keith Donoghue rides him out every day and he couldn’t be happier with him.
“We missed the Dublin Festival with him and I might give him a run in a schooling hurdle in the next 10 days, just to give him a bit more experience.
“There’s always more pressure when you go to Cheltenham with the likes of him. We think he’s very good and he never does any more than what he has to – even working him, if he worked with a 95-rated horse he’d only just beat him.
“I don’t think he’s a hype horse. He’s won three Grade Ones and he’s done it himself.
“He was bought to be a three-mile chaser. I suppose what he does in Cheltenham will tell us whether he should go back for a Champion Hurdle next year or go chasing.
“At the moment I’d say he’ll go chasing next season, but we’ll see.”
The brilliant Gordon Elliott trained Envoi Allen remains unbeaten, notching up a decisive win in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle, with Davy Russell doing the steering pic.twitter.com/V4ovlyepap
— Naas Racecourse (@NaasRacecourse) January 5, 2020
Envoi Allen could be joined by Easywork in the Ballymore, while Fury Road is being aimed at the Albert Bartlett.
Of the latter, Elliott said: “The ground was just quick enough for him in Leopardstown the last day. He actually wasn’t beaten that far and I think over three miles on softer ground, you’ll see a different horse.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Paul Nolan’s horse (Latest Exhibition) – I think he’s the horse we all have to beat.”
Testing ground would be a concern for Abacadabras, who was a Grade One winner at Christmas and is also a Supreme candidate
Elliott said: “We made the decision not to run him at the Dublin Racing Festival. He’s had four runs over hurdles and I just didn’t want to knock the edge off him.
“I suppose the one worry I’d have is if it came up very soft – he might just not be at his best on very heavy ground.”
Apple’s Jade appears to be nearing the end of her illustrious career after she was pulled up the Galmoy Hurdle last time out, but she may well get a final Festival hurrah.
“If she runs in anything she’ll run in the Stayers’ Hurdle. She worked the other day and worked a bit lifeless, so we’ll see how she goes,” explained Elliott.
“It’s not my decision to call it (retirement), but I’d imagine she will be covered this year.
“She’s won 11 Grade Ones and doesn’t owe anyone anything – she’s been the horse of a lifetime.
“I’ve been saying all year she’s not working as well as she was.”
Samcro has failed to hit the expected heights since landing short odds in the 2018 Ballymore, most recently disappointing as an odds-on favourite behind Faugheen in a Limerick Grade One over Christmas.
Faugheen has subsequently scored again at that level and the pair could clash again at Cheltenham, with both entered for the Marsh Novices’ Chase, although Faugheen has alternative options and Elliott is far from committed to running Samcro in the Cotswolds.
Elliott said: “He’s had a wind operation since he ran in Limerick. We were disappointed, but he just got beaten by a good horse and he emptied on that real heavy ground.
“He always shows plenty at home, that’s the problem! We’ve had awful problems with him not scoping right and he didn’t scope right after Limerick, either.
“The plan is to go for the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the moment. We’ll see how he works over the next couple of weeks. There’s a lot of water to under the bridge yet and I wouldn’t be shocked if we kept him for Fairyhouse.
“He’s had his fair share of problems over the last year or two, but he’s a very good horse on his day. I’d prefer the ground to be on the better side for him.
“There’s a lot of horses who work well at home but lose their way – Don Cossack lost his way for a year or so, too. We hope we can get him back.”