Marsh Novice Chase Tips – Can Banker Envoi Allen Maintain Unbeaten Record?

Envoi Allen has won at the last two Cheltenham Festivals

Envoi Allen has won at the last two Cheltenham Festivals

2021 Marsh Novice Chase Tips

There are always bankers at Cheltenham but the Marsh Novice Chase may just have the biggest of them all in the shape of Envoi Allen. The unbeaten superstar has the world at his feet and will be the cornerstone of many accumulators on day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival .

Marsh Novice Chase Overview

Last year’s renewal produced a thrilling finish between three Irish raiders: Samcro, Melon and Faugheen. The Irish have won eight of the ten renewals; four have gone the way of Willie Mullins while Gordon Elliott has won two of the last three. It has been a fairly punter-friendly race, with eight of the ten winners returning at 4/1 or shorter, with Benefficient providing the only “shock” when winning at 20/1 in 2013. 

Envoi Allen – Banker? 

A perfect 11/11 under rules, Envoi Allen (5/6) has been a joy to behold thus far. Undoubtedly one of the most exciting prospects for many a year, he’s taken to chasing like a duck to water with his jumping looking immaculate, although he has raced in small fields over fences thus far.

It’s hard to be overtly critical of a horse who is undefeated, a two-time Cheltenham Festival winner and a five-time Grade 1 winner, but it would be fair to he hasn’t faced the toughest assignments over fences thus far. He beat January Jets, rated 138, on his chase debut before winning a four-runner renewal of the Drinmore, albeit the now 150-rated Coko Beach was back in fourth that day. The litmus test was meant to be against Asterion Forlonge in the Killiney Novice Chase at Punchestown. Conceding 10lb to the talented grey, the much-anticipated clash lasted for all of a furlong as Asterion Forlonge departed at the very first fence, allowing Envoi Allen to coast home without coming out of second gear.

While he hasn’t beaten top-class performers over fences and the margins of victory haven’t been emphatic, he leaves the distinct impression that he only does what is required. It was a similar story over hurdles in the build up to last year’s festival, although his defeat of Abacadabras and Darver Star in the Royal Bond reads well now. Given plenty to do in the Ballymore when turning for home, he closed the gap and pulled away from some nice horses in the style of a very smart horse, while it’s also worth noting that the Ballymore was run in a time seven seconds quicker than the Coral Cup.

The Marsh will be his toughest test to date over fences, but he looks sure to rise to the occasion as he looks to follow in the footsteps of Yorkhill in completing the Ballymore/Marsh double (or Neptune/JLT as they were known!)

Assessing the Scilly Isles

This year’s Scilly Isles looked a strong renewal and it produced a fascinating contest. Sporting John was bitterly disappointing on his chase debut but he bounced back to win the Sandown Grade 1 under a patient ride by Richard Johnson. Run at a strong pace, his victory looked unlikely in the early stages but he did warm to his task, taking over after the final fence on route to a three-length victory.

Nine-seconds quicker than the handicap chase on the same card, it appeared as though the two early leaders got racing too soon which set the race up for the patiently ridden winner, which does raise a question over the reliability of the form. Still, Sporting John is unquestionably a horse with plenty of ability although he will also have to prove his aptitude for Cheltenham having disappointed in last season’s Ballymore if he is to replicate stablemate Defi Du Seuil in completing the Scilly Isles/Marsh double.

One of those forcing the pace was Kauto Star winner, Shan Blue. His jumping is his main asset and you imagine that Harry Skelton will be positive on him as he was at Sandown. Sixth behind Envoi Allen in the Ballymore, it’s difficult to envisage him reversing the form with the market leader but he certainly has place claims. Unlike most, this is his only remaining entry at Cheltenham which provides ante-post punters with a degree of security.

Hitman was still travelling well when falling at the twelfth fence. He appeared to jump it fine but he stumbled on landing; an unfortunate departure given it left us all with unanswered questions. Second behind Allmankind in the Henry VIII, he retains plenty of potential but with his weight-for-age allowance slowly diminishing, he looks up against it here.

The fall of Hitman brought down Dame De Compagnie (50/1) who appeared to be struggling at the time. Having only made her chase debut 19 days earlier in a two-runner race, this was always going to be a tough task for her. Last year’s Coral Cup winner retains potential but she may need more time to fully adjust to her new discipline. 10/1 for the Mares’ Chase, that would appear to be the more realistic target. 

Other British Contenders

Fifth in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Allart made an impressive start to life over fences when winning a Grade 2 Novice Chase at Ascot. Thrown in at the deep end, he took a while to warm to his task but his jumping improved significantly on the second circuit and he demonstrated a nice turn of foot on route to an impressive victory over Fiddlerontheroof, who is a solid yardstick. A faller in the Altcar Novices’ Chase when last seen (the race Taquin De Seuil won in 2014 prior to Cheltenham glory), he has a fair amount to prove now.

Dan Skelton also has Protektorat (25/1) entered here; an impressive winner of his first two chase starts, he lost his unbeaten record when last seen at Wincanton, where he tended to jump left-handed. Going that way won’t inconvenience him as much at Cheltenham, but he might instead go for the Festival Novices’ Chase, with Harry Skelton saying “towards the Spring you’ll probably see him over three miles”. The horse that beat him at Wincanton, Messire Des Obeaux, is set to swerve Cheltenham as he looks to prefer flatter tracks. 

Fusil Raffles relished the step up in trip when beating Lieutenant Rocco (33/1) on soft ground at Cheltenham in November; form which has been franked by the latter. At home on good ground (despite winning on soft last time out), he was a Grade 1 winner as a Juvenile but he’ll need to improve to challenge the likes of Envoi Allen.

Other Irish Challengers…?

Outside of Envoi Allen, there doesn’t appear to many viable Irish contenders for one reason or another.

The likes of Monkfish (20/1) and Latest Exhibition (20/1) look set to contest the Fesitval Novices’ Chase while Energumene (7/1) has emerged as a leading Arkle contender. 

Franco De Port won the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase over the minimum trip in a race that rather fell apart, but he backed that up with a fine performance in the Irish Arkle, staying on nicely into second; a run that left the impression that he would have no problem stepping up in trip. Willie Mullins was keen on him before the season started, stating that “He’s definitely better than you’ve seen thus far”.

Unsurprisingly, Willie has been proven right and with the stable having Energumene for the Arkle, Franco De Port would have an each-way chance here for a yard with a great record in the race. However, he does have to prove his aptitude for Cheltenham having pulled up in the Coral Cup last term.

Andy Dufresne (20/1) certainly looks like he’d appreciate this trip but his participation is far from likely, with connections seemingly not too keen to go to Cheltenham with him.

Marsh Novice Chase Big-Race Verdict

Envoi Allen is hard to oppose here and he’ll almost certainly be the “Irish Banker” of the week. Bar him, the Irish look surprisingly short-handed here, with Franco De Port seemingly best of the rest. Shan Blue has solid place prospects given his slick jumping and considering that he’s likely to be ridden positively.