Gordon Elliott said on Racing TV Extra on Saturday that "it would not be a disaster" if his star performer, Envoi Allen, lost his unbeaten record at Punchestown on Sunday.
Elliott probably imagined the Grade Three Sky Bet Killiney Novice Chase would make for relatively easy pickings for his outstanding seven-year-old when resisting Grade One prizes over Christmas but instead it will reprtesent his stiffest assignment over fences as he must concede 11lb to Asterion Forlonge, a Grade One-winning hurdler who himself is a burgeoning talent.
Envoi Allen has won each of his ten races under Rules and is already a two-time Cheltenham Festival winner but, with a Grade One win over the bigger obstacles at Fairyhouse to his name, he must carry a penalty as his connections continue to plot a path to the Marsh Chase at Cheltenham in March, for which he is the general Evens favourite.
By contrast, Asterion Forlonge, trained by Willie Mullins for Gold Cup-winning owner Joe Donnelly, has no penalty. The grey was fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and won on his chasing debut before falling five from home in a Grade One won by stablemate Colreevy at Limerick last month.
Elliott spoke to Gary O'Brien about Envoi Allen at Fairyhouse on Saturday
Looking forward to an intriguing contest, County Meath trainer Elliott told Gary O'Brien at Fairyhouse on Saturday: “It's going to be a very tough race. He could finish second and lose nothing in defeat.
"He's giving 11lb to a Grade One horse [Asterion Forlonges] and on hurdle ratings he should beat us. This has been my plan since the last day and I wasn’t going to change it. This is what people want to see, racehorses taking each other on.
"I'll be disappointed if we don't win but it won't be a disaster - he is giving a lot of weight to a very good horse. We could get beat a length and run a very, very good race. It is probably going to be his biggest ask, but I’m happy with the horse and we’ll take our chance."
In terms of fitness, Elliott said: "He's been tipping away but there's only one day I want him for. March is D-Day but I won't be blaming fitness if he gets beat. I suppose the one negative would be heavy ground."
For Chris Richardson, managing director of Cheveley Park Stud, victory would be poignant as only recently the stud’s joint-owner David Thompson died at the age of 84.
“A victory would mean a lot,” said Richardson “You get nervous when he’s done what he’s done, and when you come up against a horse like Asterion Forlonge who is getting 11lb that is a task in itself.
“This is where Gordon has always wanted to go prior to Cheltenham, though. It’s looks the right race, there was no question of not running him and Gordon is very happy with him.
“He’s an extraordinary horse so you’ve got to go when the opportunity arises, you can’t dodge. He’s happy and it’s green for go.”
Asterion Forlonge's only defeat when completing under Rules was at Cheltenham, where he jumped markedly right. Punchestown is right-handed, and it is unclear if he will run again at The Festival this year.
His hurdle rating is 154, just 6lb inferior to Envoi Allen. Chasing is a different game, of course, and he does have to show his tumble on Boxing day has left no mark.
Also, as a habitual front-runner, he will have a big arrow on his back for the favourite to aim at. Tactically, it could maske for a fascinating game of cat-and-mouse.
On his website, Mullins said on Sunday: "Asterion Forlonge is on a retrieval mission after falling in the race won by Colreevy at Limerick over Christmas. If he has learned from that fall he could gain compensation today. He will handle the ground and this trip will suit."
The other quartet in the race include the Joseph O'Brien-trained Fils F'oudairies, who has also looked a horse of promise, but he is quoted at 14-1. Envoi Allen is available at 1-2, with Asterion Forlonge 9-4.
In the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, Elliott runs Magic Tricks, who is well on the way to matching up to his illustrious brother and stable companion.
Elliott said: “He’s a nice horse and I couldn’t believe he got beat in a bumper the first day. He was very good in Navan and I think he’s come on a bit from it.”Bring home the Jumps with a free month of Racing TV! Watch full coverage of the best British and Irish meetings. Start your free month at racingtv.com/freemonth!
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