For many trainers, the Cheltenham Festival can be a tricky meeting to navigate. With so many races and so many potential runners, picking the best race for any given horse is by far the biggest decision to be made. Some are very straightforward. Nicky Henderson will always aim Altior at the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Al Boum Photo will always go for a repeat bid in the Gold Cup.

But if you’re Gordon Elliott, armed with an arsenal of potential winners, determining which specific race they each run in is more problematic. Case in point this year is Envoi Allen. Undoubtedly one of the horses that he is counting on for a win, Envoi Allen was favourite for both the Supreme Novices Hurdle on opening day and the Ballymore Novices Hurdle on day two.

It’s a nice dilemma to have but not so much if you’re a punter and fancy his chances. Unless you choose a bookie that offers non runner no bet, you could be in serious danger of losing your cash on an ante-post bet. Thankfully, the Cheltenham Festival is huge in the betting markets so the majority of horse racing online betting sites offered the NRNB option early so that did minimise the risk.

As it turns out, Gordon Elliott has now advised that Envoi Alen will be going in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle. The Irish trainer made the announcement on Twitter on Sunday 8th March 2020, stating: “After walking the track and speaking to the owners I’ve decided to run ENVOI ALLEN in the ballymore novice hurdle on Wednesday.” Instantly the odds on him dropped to as low as 5/4, which frankly offers very little value for ordinary backers.

Envoi Allen Main Challengers

At the time of writing this article, the final declarations for the Ballymore have been made. There are 12 runners in contention with a maximum of 22 allowed to run. It’s no surprise that Envoi Allen is the current race favourite. But he does have some competition and no race at Cheltenham is a dead certainty.

The Grade 1 race is run on the old course over 2m5f. Last year’s winner was City Island which went off at odds of 8/1. Trained by Martin Brassil, he was a surprise winner of the race for which Battleoverdoyen was the favourite. He even beat out Champ and Easy Game to take the win by two lengths.

So will 2020 see a similar upset? Envoi Allen’s biggest competition looks set to come from Sporting John. Trained by Philip Hobbs, Barry Geraghty is already booked to ride the JO McManus owned runner. With three wins from three hurdle starts, he looks good but hasn’t yet won a Grade 1, unlike Envoi Allen who has won two this season.

The Big Breakaway and The Big Getaway are next in the betting. Incidentally, they are both sired by the same horse – Getaway – hence the similarity in the names. However, they are owned and trained by different connections. While both are solid hurdlers in their own right, neither has the form or quality of Envoi Allen.

Can Martin Brassil do the double and cause another upset this year? He runs Longhouse Poet at odds of 10/1. He doesn’t go into the Ballymore on the same form as City Island and has already been beaten by Envoi Allen this season. That was in Naas in January and he finished 7L behind the winner.

Gordon Elliott also runs Easywork who was second in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last time out. At odds of 16/1 he’s probably a good consideration for an each-way bet. Trained alongside Envoi Allen, connections would have sent him elsewhere in the Festival if they didn’t think he had at least a small chance to challenge Envoi Allen!

Envoi Allen Form And Chances Of Winning

Going on the form only, there really is no real competition for Envoi Allen in the Ballymore. In fact, Gordon Elliott’s announcement on Sunday may have scared off some of the other 24 potential runners before the final declarations.

Also in Envoi Allen’s favour is the ground. After non-stop rain recently, the ground is almost certainly going to be soft which will suit the favourite. All three of this season’s hurdle wins have come on soft or yielding ground, then again so have Sporting John’s!

So form, going and a winnable weight are all spot on. But nothing is ever that straightforward at Cheltenham. If it was, every favourite would win and we know they don’t. Sporting John or Easywork could give him a real run for his money so don’t be surprised if this race doesn’t play out exactly as expected.