By Pat Keane
[timgcapimported=Keith O’Donoghue riding Envoi Allen at Cheltenham on Monday. Gordon Elliott’s charge is the choice in the opening race to maintain his unbeaten record, but faces by far his stiffest test to date. Picture: Dan Sheridan]4dc1763d-450a-4c80-8098-8a37f6dbfb36__0cf379e6-d742-4c35-84c8-1b4335d2a5c3.jpg[/timgcapimported]
If punters are ever going to put on their betting boots at Cheltenham this week, then it will be today, on a programme that may well tempt one to come out to play three times!
The nap vote falls on Philip Hobbs’ Defi Du Seuil in an intriguing six-runner Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Disappointingly, Altior was finally ruled out of the contest yesterday by Nicky Henderson.
For weeks, this Champion Chase held promise of being the race of the meeting, but now it can be regarded as essentially a match between Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi.
In contrast to Altior, there have been no hiccups in the Defi Du Seuil preparation and, as a seven-year-old, he has lots of scope for further improvement.
We know he loves Cheltenham and is a winner six times around here.
He has also twice been successful at the festival, winning the Triumph Hurdle in 2017 and the JLT Novices’ Chase a year ago.
Defi Du Seuil is unbeaten in three races this season, starting at Cheltenham in mid-November and following up when scrambling to a neck defeat of Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December.
There were then high hopes Un De Sceaux would reverse placings in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January and he was heavily backed to do so.
The pair were 11-10 joint favourites at the off, but on the track it was no contest, with Defi Du Seuil surging away from his admirable opponent in the closing stages to score by two and three quarter lengths. Hobbs’ charge simply looked real-good on the day.
Willie Mullins, seeking a first win in the Champion Chase, will saddle the other big player in Chacun Pour Soi.
The ex-French horse did slam Defi Du Seuil by over four lengths at the Punchestown festival in May, but that was at the end of a long season and not too much should be read into that.
Chacun Pour Soi warmed up for this at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown last month, producing a perfectly satisfactory performance to easily beat stable companion, Min.
He is a great jumper and that is obviously a big plus, but did not seem to have a whole lot left at Leopardstown, so expect Defi Du Seuil to face the hill better than him.
Envoi Allen has to be the choice in the opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle to maintain his unbeaten record, currently eight from eight.
This, however, represents far and away his stiffest test and will reveal whether he is actually the real deal, or the biggest talking horse since Samcro.
To date he has won a point-to-point, four bumpers and three over flights.
His latest success came in a Grade 1 at Naas in early January when coasting home nicely clear of Willie Mullins’ Elixir D’ainay.
You couldn’t say he was overly impressive, but still had three and a half lengths to spare at the line and was always in control up the straight.
The word is that Envoi Allen may not quite have been at his best on that occasion and was given an easy few days subsequently.
He was then put aside for Cheltenham, swerving the Dublin Racing Festival, and there have been very encouraging reports regarding his homework.
His most interesting rival is surely Mullins’ The Big Getaway.
He got his act together with a vengeance when taking a maiden hurdle by 17 lengths at Naas and clearly has a bright future.
This is a different level, of course, and a major ask, but is a horse with a lot of potential and it will be no surprise should he run a cracker.
Mullins’ Appreciate It won’t be much value to beat 22 rivals in the Weatherbys’ Champion Bumper, but hopefully we will be in topping-up mode at this stage, after backing a winner or two.
He is seriously progressive, hardly breaking sweat on his latest appearance to win doing handstands at Leopardstown last time.
That looked a hot enough contest beforehand, but Appreciate It treated the opposition with contempt.
Like Envoi Allen, there are encouraging reports of his well-being.