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The sky's the limit for Weatherbys Champion Bumper victor

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by Graham Dench
We’ve enjoyed some great winners of Cheltenham’s Festival Bumper since Weatherbys first backed the race in 1997, but Envoi Allen might just turn out the best of them all.

That first running under Weatherbys’ sponsorship went to the brilliant Florida Pearl, who went straight over fences and won the RSA Chase 12 months later. By the time he had finished Florida Pearl had scored nine times at the top level, and been placed in two Gold Cups. He beat Best Mate, no less, in the 2001 King George.

The 1998 winner Alexander Banquet went on to Grade 1 success both over hurdles and fences, and after Monsignor broke Willie Mullins’ stranglehold on the race the following year he returned to Cheltenham 12 months later to land what is now the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, having already won the Tolworth. 

Monsignor would surely have gone all the way to the top if he had not been so injury prone, and you would struggle to nominate a poor winner of the Festival Bumper since. Many are household names in racing households, and the 2010 winner Cue Card proved another stand-out, mirroring Florida Pearl in including a King George of his own among nine wins at that level and looking unlucky not to win a Gold Cup.

It’s a bold shout then to suggest that Envoi Allen might end up at the top of such an impressive pile, but none of his illustrious predecessors had achieved quite so much at the same stage of their careers and pretty much every aspect of his make-up suggests that the best is still to come.

It looked a strong renewal when Envoi Allen made it four out of four in bumpers by beating Blue Sari, Thyme Hill, Abracadabras and The Glancing Queen at Cheltenham last March, barely a year after his winning debut in a point-to-point and his £400,000 sale to Cheveley Park Stud. 

The first five have all franked the form, rattling up ten more wins between them, and Thyme Hill has progressed especially well, winning his first three starts over hurdles, all of them in Graded company and the latest in the Grade 1 Betway Challow Hurdle at Newbury. 

Envoi Allen began over hurdles in a maiden at Down Royal, but Gordon Elliott wasted no time in stepping him up and his subsequent wins from the Cheltenham fourth Abracadabras in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse and from Elixir d’Ainay in the Lawlor’s of Naas have taken his unbeaten run to eight races if you include the point-to-point he won for Colin Bowe. An unprecedented three of those races have been in Grade 1s.

It’s true that Envoi Allen has not been winning his hurdle races by extravagant margins, but he has travels, jumps and quickens, and at no point has he looked vulnerable. What’s more, the opposition has had real strength in depth.

The Naas race was over two and a half miles but Envoi Allen is by no means a slow horse - he’s by Godolphin’s Prix Jacques Le Marois winner Muhtathir after all - and while bookmakers reckon the Ballymore is his likely Festival option you can see why Elliott and the Thompsons are ruling nothing out, with the Unibet Champion Hurdle an option as well as the SkyBet Supreme Novices’.

Novices win the Champion Hurdle from time to time, and although Envoi Allen is a very different proposition to either Alderbrook or Make A Stand the option could prove impossible to resist in such an open year.

He looks to have everything, and for now the sky is the limit.