2021 Cheltenham Festival Tips – Will Switch To De Bromhead Harm Envoi In Marsh Novice Chase?

Envoi Allen wins at the 2020 Cheltenham FestivalEnvoi Allen wins at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival

2021 Marsh Novice Chase Tips

Following on from Grade 1 races in Britain and Ireland, Lewis Tomlinson has taken a look at the Marsh Novice Chase, the opening race on Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival. 

MArsh Novice Chase Overview

Added to the Festival in 2011, the Marsh Chase was upgraded to Grade 1 status in 2014 and produced one of the finishes of the season last year Samcro got the better of Melon and Faugheen in a three-way photo finish. It’s fair to say things might look a little bit less competitive this time around.

Key Contenders – Envoi Allen

One point-to-point. Four bumpers. Four hurdles. Three chases. Victorious in all. But the late switch to trainer Henry de Bromhead after owners Cheveley Park Stud felt unable to back Gordon elliott after he was pictured astride a dead horse means his preparation has been somewhat disrupted.

On paper, Envoi Allen’s bid for a third consecutive Cheltenham Festival success looks little more than a formality for the sport’s most exciting prospect in a generation, and after 11 races under rules, it’s still hard to pinpoint a chink in his armour.

Trip? Tick, and it would be a tick were he to rock up in either the Arkle or RSA. He shapes like a ridiculously versatile animal, last season having the beating of Grade 1 winner Abacadabras over in a two mile hurdle whilst shaping as if he’d be equally at ease in a three mile chase.

Jumping? Tick. Bold enough to gain ground when he sees a stride, but clever enough to make a meal of it when having to fiddle his way over.

Attitude? Tick. Envoi Allen has acknowledged every time he has been asked to come slightly out of his comfort zone, his two prior Festival wins showcasing that, certainly having to graft to hold off Blue Sari in the Champion Bumper two years ago and responding generously to Davy Russell’s urgings to chase down Easywork and The Big Getaway in the Ballymore last season.

For me, the beauty in Envoi Allen’s ruthlessness comes in his ability to find a rare extra gear when push comes to shove. It’s almost as if he just kids his rivals along, asking them to throw whatever they can muster his way, safe in the knowledge that he’ll be able to find just a little bit more to always stay in control. 

If anything, those who complain about dilution of the Festival may have their biggest case in point here, given that a clash against either Shishkin or Monkfish would potentially be the highlight of the Festival, but Envoi Allen’s rare blend of speed and stamina make intermediate 2m4f trip of the Marsh absolutely spot on for him, and I think the right call aiming him at this event.

They say there’s no such thing as a certainty in racing, though, so should Envoi Allen falter, who may be on hand to take advantage?

Shan Blue

Shan Blue (12-1) was beaten 27 lengths into sixth by Envoi Allen in the Ballymore last season, but is a much improved chaser this term and won his first three starts over fences, including when gaining his first victory at the top level in the Kauto Star on Boxing Day. That was over three miles, but it’s easy to see why dropping back to two and a half for the Festival looks a sensible option, his pace and pinpoint accurate jumping more likely assets here than against some thorough stayers in the RSA.

He certainly emerged with credit when losing his unbeaten record to Sporting John (8-1) on bad ground in the Scilly Isles, his jumping once again to joy to behold and he probably ranks as the biggest danger- if there is one- to the favourite. 

Sporting John

Sporting John himself flopped at the Festival last season, as he did when soundly beaten on his chasing debut, but bounced back brilliantly to take that Sandown Grade 1, looking a strong stayer at the trip after being all at sea in the early stage.

It’s harder to see the Marsh setting up as well for him, though, as the pace is surely likelier to be more substantial at Cheltenham and that could see him getting too far behind early to pose a threat.

Protektorat

The same yard’s Protektorat (16-1) has also improved for chasing and made a bold impression when jumping his rivals into submission here in November. He was officially 17lbs inferior to Envoi Allen over hurdles though, and seemingly had his limitations exposed by Aintree-bound Messire Des Obeaux at Wincanton last time. Despite that, his place claims remain solid.

Allart

Allart (12-1), though also not quite in Envoi Allen’s league, was a classy novice hurdler, finishing fifth in the Supreme last Festival and looks as if he’ll be an even better chaser, making a winning chase debut when pitched into Grade 2 company in the Noel Novices’ Chase in December. He’ll have to brush up on his jumping, though, as he took chances in that Ascot win and didn’t get away with it when falling at Haydock last time out.

Fusil Raffles

Grade 1 winning juvenile Fusil Raffles (16-1) fell short of the top in open hurdling company last season but has won three out of his four novice chase starts and clearly appreciated the half-mile step up in trip when winning last at Cheltenham in November. He’s not taken a huge leap forward for fences, probably about matching the level of form he showed over hurdles, but that could well be enough to make the first three here and is a viable each-way candidate.

His stablemate, last season’s Supreme third Chantry House (16-1) is better than he showed when turned over at odds-on by Fusil Raffles last time out, but it would take a brave man to side with a horse facing the biggest test of their career on the back of such a lifeless performance.

Andy Dufresne

Physically, Andy Dufresne (18-1) always looked as if chasing would be his game and has done more to show why he’s held in such high regard by the Gordon Elliott team in winning twice over fences so far this season than in his slightly lacklustre novice hurdling campaign. I’m a fan of his; despite not having produced an utterly breathtaking performance, he’s been fairly tidy and efficient over fences, though this is a far deeper race than anything he’s contested before and I wonder whether something along the lines of Fairyhouse’s Ryanair Gold Cup on Easter weekend would provide him with a better chance of Grade 1 glory.

Energumene (12-1), Hitman (16-1) and Franco De Port (20-1) all also have the Arkle options alongside the Marsh.

I’m a big fan of Energumene and he’s unlucky to be in the same crop of novices as Shishkin and Envoi Allen, as he’d probably be the one to beat here, or in the Arkle, in a weaker year. I’d lean towards the Arkle with him if I were Willie Mullins, given the raw pace he showed in beating Captain Guinness last month, but stablemate Franco De Port shaped as if he’d benefit from a step up in trip when winning a two-mile Grade 1 from off the pace at Christmas, so I wouldn’t be hugely surprised to see him line up here. Paul Nicholls’ youngster Hitman stayed on all the way to the line when runner-up in the Henry VIII and I can see the case for stepping him up by half a mile, for all his form would probably need over a stone worth of improvement to topple Envoi Allen.

2021 Marsh Novice Chase Big-Race Verdict

Simple one, this. Envoi Allen is the king. Enjoy the coronation.