After recent runs for some major Cheltenham Festival candidates along with the prospect of more to come this weekend, top trainers from Britain and Ireland are moving a significant step closer to finalising their teams for the start of the 4-day meeting on March 10th.

Is Envoi Allen the Real Deal?

Having taken the 2019 Champion Bumper at Cheltenham ahead of subsequent winners Thyme Hill, Abracadabras and The Glancing Queen who have since taken three Grade 3’s, three Grade 2’s and a couple of Grade 1’s between them, Gordon Elliott’s Envoi Allen has been seen by most as a shoo-in for the Festival once again.

He is now six from six in rules races having won easily enough at Naas on Sunday in a novice hurdle event, but his performance over two-and-a-half miles has left his trainer edging away from an attempt at the Champion Hurdle for which his star was extremely well fancied.

Instead, Elliott appears to be aiming Envoi Allen at a either the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or, perhaps more likely, a crack at the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle over the longer trip.

He is now only 6/4 generally for the latter given how well it seems he took to a bigger stamina test, but despite his record some are not convinced he’s all that. Irish horses in recent years have had great success coming into the Cheltenham Festival having run at the Dublin Racing Festival in February, but it may well be that Envoi Allen’s prep could be different.

Not many pro punters like the chances of a horse having had a hard race in early January before being left off the track until Cheltenham, and it seems this horse will have that sort of prep to contend with if he is to prove he’s the real deal.

Mullins Happy with Gold Cup Duo

Willie Mullins has declared himself content with both Kemboy and last year’s winner Al Boum Photo ahead of their probably Gold Cup tilt, both horses being reportedly fine after their festive endeavours.

The latter, a winner at Tramore, is sure to head straight to Cheltenham in defence of his title while Kemboy, who ran fourth in the Savills Chase, is more likely to take in another prep before the big day.

Kemboy actually won the Savills Chase at Leopardstown last season with a great display of jumping before being left off the track ahead of the Gold Cup, a race for which he was favourite for a while, however he was not at his best that day and could be prepared rather differently this time.

The Irish Gold Cup over three miles on February 2nd would be an ideal way to ensure Kemboy is fully ready for his big test in March and, if he’s successful at Leopardstown, he could be a might shorter than his current price of 6/1.

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Altior to Take in Kempton

While it’s clear now that Altior is not a Gold Cup contender, the former champion two-miler’s trainer Nicky Henderson is persisting with his trial of running him over further and he could now take in the two mile, four-and-a-half furlong Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

Should Altior win the Grade 2 contest in good enough style he may well be aimed at the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, a race for which he is currently as big as 14/1 in places although nobody will be surprised if, despite him running over 2m5f on his seasonal debut, he still ends up back in the Champion Chase for which he remains the general 3/1 favourite despite his connections’ plans. That is a price that looks pretty large around about now.