1 ENVOI ALLEN (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Wednesday).
He is, without question, the banker of the week for the Irish and is a horse with a massive reputation. His record speaks for itself, unbeaten in eight races.
The six-year-old began life in the point-to-point fields, winning by ten lengths at Ballinaboola. A 3-1 chance then, it was the biggest price he has ever been.
Indeed, the only other occasion when he started at odds against was when the 2-1 favourite for last year’s Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, justifying the confidence with a hard-earned three parts of a length defeat of Willie Mullins’ Blue Sari.
In all Gordon Elliott’s gelding has won a point, four bumpers and three over flights. His latest victory came in a Grade 1 hurdle at Leopardstown in early January when coasting to an easy success.
Elliott then put him aside with Cheltenham in mind, subsequently swerving the richly endowed Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown. The vibes emanating from Elliott’s are positive, with Envoi Allen reportedly working beautifully after racing at Leopardstown recently.
2 PRESENTING PERCY (Gold Cup, Friday).
Pat Kelly’s charge is enigmatic but, just like his media-shy trainer, utterly fascinating. It would be wrong to describe Kelly as a man of few words — he is essentially a man of no words, rarely quoted in print or radio/television. Perhaps, if Presenting Percy finally puts it all together and wins the Gold Cup, he might be moved to change the habits of a lifetime.
Fortunately, the horse’s owner, Philip Reynolds, often fills the void. A son of former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, he has always been more than willing to facilitate the press. There is no doubt Presenting Percy possesses the engine to land the Gold Cup and, as a nine-year-old, should now be at the peak of his powers.
Two years ago, he had the world at his feet when running away with the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, slamming Monalee to the tune of seven lengths. Amazingly, however, that was the last time he scored over fences and has only won one race in the meantime, the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park in January of 2019.
He has struggled to find anything like his best form and was again found wanting on his latest appearance when third to Delta Work and Kemboy in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month. Delta Work’s rider, Jack Kennedy, is currently injured and misses Cheltenham.
Presumably, Davy Russell, given his close association with the horse’s trainer, Gordon Elliott, could have ridden Delta Work. But he has decided to stick with Presenting Percy, which is seriously interesting.
3 ASTERION FORLONGE (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Tuesday).
Worth more than a second glance, especially with the future in mind. The grey son of Coastal Path will carry the Al Boum Photo colours of Cork woman, Marie Donnelly. Al Boum Photo, of course, gave Willie Mullins his first ever win in the Gold Cup a year ago, after the trainer had hit the bar on a number of occasions.
Marie is the wife of Joe Donnelly, once one of the biggest on-course bookmakers in the Irish ring. Multi-millionaire Donnelly is probably now just as well-known as an art collector and property investor. Asterion Forlonge is lightly raced and unbeaten in four races, a point-to-point, bumper and twice over hurdles. Initially regarded by Mullins as needing well beyond two miles, he surprised connections, over the minimum trip, at the Dublin Racing Festival, landing a Grade 1 by nine and a half lengths from main market rival, Easywork.
He did, though, show a marked tendency to jump to his right and, hopefully, that will not be overly apparent around Cheltenham. In any case Asterion Forlonge does shape as potentially a high-class chaser in the making.
4 BENIE DES DIEUX (Mares’ Hurdle, Tuesday).
She will be far and away the best mare on view at Cheltenham this week. Formerly trained in France, she has a remarkable record for Willie Mullins, eight wins in nine races. Indeed, it should be the full set, because in this race last year she was clear, and in total command, when falling at the last.
5 THE BIG GETAWAY (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Wednesday).
Also owned by Joe and Marie Donnelly and is set to take on Envoi Allen. That may be asking a bit much at this stage of his young life, but he is certainly a name for the future. Again, jumping fences is going to very much be his game, but he’s no slouch as a hurdler either, as evidenced by an emphatic 17 lengths win in a maiden at Naas in late January.
6 DEFI DU SEUIL (Champion Chase, Wednesday).
His liking for Cheltenham is legendary and he has won around there six times, including last year’s JLT Novices’ Chase. If Nicky Henderson’s charge is to make it win number seven at the track, he will have to beat Altior and Chacun Pour Soi, in what promises to be the race of the meeting. Improving rapidly and only seven, he has to go close.
7 A PLUS TARD (Ryanair Chase, Thursday).
A year ago, he showed Cheltenham holds no fears for him when scampering to an impressive 16 lengths win in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase. At Leopardstown at Christmas he graduated to Grade 1 company when powering away from Chacun Pour Soi and has clearly been laid out for this test by Henry de Bromhead.
8 MINELLA MELODY (Mares’ Novice Hurdle, Thursday).
Another live possibility for de Bromhead, having come right back to her best when giving the smart Colreevy 4lbs and a two and a-half-lengths beating at Fairyhouse last time.
9 LATEST EXHIBITION (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, Friday).
Tough and resolute, he will relish stepping up to three miles for the first time. The hope is he will catapult trainer, Paul Nolan, and jockey, Bryan Cooper, back into the big time, after a lean period for both.
10 CASH BACK: (Arkle Trophy, Tuesday).
He is miles better over fences than hurdles and could play a part in the Arkle, if meeting a soft surface.