Marsh Novices’ Chase Preview
Last year’s Irish banker of the meet and racings current poster boy, Envoi Allen, heads the betting for this year’s Marsh Novices’ Chase over the intermediate trip. Envoi Allen has taken to fences like a duck to water and is sure to go off a very short-priced favourite. Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue heads the English charge and his electric jumping from the front could give Envoi Allen something to think about. A whole host of good horses lurk deeper in the market but I’d imagine plenty will be looking at the top with Envoi Allen for a banker leg of their accumulators.
Trainer: Henry De Bromhead
Current Odds: 8/11
Envoi Allen is the rising star in National Hunt Racing and has long been a short-priced favourite for this race ever since his former trainer, Gordon Elliott, earmarked the Marsh as the target. Already a dual Cheltenham Festival winner, Envoi Allen has looked a natural over fences and has scared away his opposition in three chase wins to date. As a result, people are quick to question what he has actually beaten? January Jets franked his maiden chase win, whilst both Home by The Lee and Coko Beach have bolted up in valuable handicaps to frank his Grade 1 Drinmore form. Faced with the prospect of having to concede 11lbs to Asterion Forlonge on his last start, the racing world was robbed as the Willie Mullins grey came crashing down at the first. Thankfully Asterion Forlonge was fine and Envoi Allen duly cantered to another success. He will come into this without really having a race this season but he’s battle hardened from his bumper days and had a tough race when winning the Ballymore. He does have to deal with a late change of stable though which can be unsettling for horses. That being said, he’s likely to remain one of the Irish bankers of the week and extend his unbeaten streek.
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Current Odds: 7/1
Chantry House has long been held in high regard by connections and repaid them with a fine novice hurdle season, winning two races before placing third in the Supreme. He was 11 lengths behind Shishkin and Abacadabras that day but has always promised to improve for a step up in trip. He duly reappeared at the intermediate trip over fences where he warmed to the task nicely and looked particularly good over the final four flights. Things didn’t go to plan next time out at Cheltenham where he was beaten comfortably by stable mate Fusil Raffles and the very useful Lieutenant Rocco. Chantry clearly was not himself that day and bounced back with a good win at Warwick conceding 6lbs to the talented Coconut Splash. On bare form alone, Chantry House will need to improve to compete with the likes of Envoi Allen and Shan Blue but he’s lightly raced and certainly entitled to improve. Last year’s Supreme betting suggested Seven Barrows didn’t think there was much between himself and Shishkin, so they clearly think he’s a very talented individual.
Trainer: Dan Skelton
Current Odds: 7/1
Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue is as good a novice jumper you will ever see and his transition to fences has seen quite the improvement. Sixth in last season’s Ballymore, Shan Blue has 27 lengths to turn around with Envoi Allen, but he looks a different horse over the larger obstacles. Two effortless chase wins saw him pitched into Grade 1 company for the Kauto Star Novices Chase on Boxing Day. Shan Blue was electric from the front and ran his rivals ragged. The Big Breakaway threatened to reel him back in, but he lost ground at every single fence. The time compared well to The King George held over the same course and distance an hour later. Shan Blue carried 3lb less than King George winner Frodon but was about 3 seconds quicker. Dropped in trip for the Grade 1 Scilly Isles on his next start, Shan Blue put in another scintillating round of jumping and was just denied late on by Sporting John, who stayed on from a mile back. The return to spring ground will really suit and he cannot be underestimated rolling along from the front. My only worry is whether he has the engine to fend off Envoi Allen and co when the inevitable challenge comes.
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Current Odds: 14/1
Nicky Henderson may well have a handful of darts to throw at Envoi Allen and the second is last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle fifth, Allart. Allart made a hugely encouraging fencing debut at Ascot overcoming early blunders before going on to ping the final few flights and power away from Fiddlerontheroof. Fiddlerontheroof may not quite be the Grade 1 horse we thought he might be, but he still represents a solid yardstick. As a result, I’d say this was a pretty good effort first time up over fences. Unfortunately, he fell on his last start and would come here with jumping worries. Entered in The Coral Cup too, I wouldn’t be surprised to see connections revert to hurdles for arguably a more winnable race!
Envoi Allen is likely to scare a fair few off here and we may be left with only the handful of runners. Emphatic Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner, Chatham Street Lad would have to look a big price at 14/1 on the back of such an impressive course and distance win. That was obviously a handicap, and this is a Grade 1, but he did it in the manor of an extremely good horse. His target is yet to be decided but I can see him attracting support should he line up here. Darver Star and Franco De Port have been clashing on the two-mile novice chase scene so far this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see either line up here, having hinted a step up in trip could suit. Fusil Raffles has always been a horse with plenty of talent and was arguably the top juvenile of his generation two seasons ago. He has made a good transition to fences and has course and distance form in the book. He may well be a slightly forgotten horse at 16/1. Hitman is a horse I have plenty of time for but Nicholls is on record stating he’s only a five-year-old, so he may be inclined to skip Cheltenham this year and come back next year.
Crunching the Numbers
- 9 of the 10 winners were aged 6 or 7
- All previous 10 winners had run at The Festival before
- 9 of the 10 winners were priced 7/1 or lower
- 9 of the 10 winners had 3 or more chase starts, Yorkhill 2017 the exception
- 9 of the 10 winners had 6 or more career wins
Added to The Festival in 2011, we only have ten running’s to look at but so far in its short history, The Marsh has been a favourable race for punters. As the only horse priced 7/1 or lower at the time of writing, Envoi Allen is the only horse capable of a full house and he does so with a perfect 5/5. Of those I looked at, Fusil Raffles is the best of the rest scoring 4/5, failing only on the price trend. Allart and Chatham Street Lad scored poorly, only ticking two of the trends whilst Shan Blue and Chantry House scored 3/5, both failing on the price and career wins trend.
A late change to Henry De Bromhead’s stable has thrown a cloud over Envoi Allen in terms of him being one of the festivals bankers. Will he be unsettled by firstly a change to Henry’s yard and then another move to Cheltenham? Connections will not run him should they doubt his well-being so once declared for the race, I believe it is best to treat him on all known form and base your decision around his exploits on the track. As a result, I do find it hard to oppose him and with Shan Blue likely to make this a truly run race up front, I think the race will be run to suit Envoi. Much like his Ballymore win last season, I can see him travelling in midfield, sitting off the pace. Turning for home he may be a couple lengths down but then the turbos will kick in! He should take all the beating and I expect to see the unbeaten streak continue.
I do however like the chances of Fusil Raffles at 10/1 in the W/O Envoi Allen market. As mentioned previously, Shan Blue is likely to make this a truly run race and should have a serious go at stretching Envoi Allen. In doing so he may push himself too far throughout and I can see him getting tired late on. Chantry House is a talented horse but he appears a bit slow to me and his run behind Fusil Raffles over course and distance would have to be a big worry. Allart isn’t a confirmed runner and Chatham Street Lad has to prove he’s more than just an impressive handicap winner. I am hoping Fusil Raffles will be ridden cold off the pace and delivered late on the scene. He seemed to thrive when stepped up to this trip in December and clearly goes well at the track. He should love the return to spring ground and having won after a 211, 189 and 199-day break previously, we know he goes very well fresh. 10/1, three places without Envoi, could look a bit of value come the day if this cuts up to just the handful of runners, which I suspect it might!
My Idea of the Winner
- Envoi Allen 8/11
W/O Envoi Allen
- Fusil Raffles 11/1
- Envoi Allen
- Fusil Raffles
- Shan Blue
By Sam Rideout
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