Envoi Allen puts his unbeaten record and huge reputation on the line in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham on Wednesday.
Cheveley Park Stud went to £400,000 to secure the five-year-old point-to-point winner at a Cheltenham sale in February of last year, and he has so far lived up to that hefty price tag with three successive victories under rules.
Dominant displays at Fairyhouse and Navan were followed by a battling success at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown and while trainer Gordon Elliott views his charge as a work in progress, he is hopeful he can extend his winning streak at Prestbury Park.
“He just does what he has to do,” said the Cullentra handler.
“Everything was against him last time with the track and the ground and more of a galloping track will suit him.
“He is a nice horse, but is one for the future and is hopefully an exciting three-mile chaser in time.
“I’ve probably had speedier horses than him in bumpers and you won’t see him at his best until stepping up to three miles.”
Elliott also saddles Abacadabras, who made a winning debut at Galway and looked set to be placed behind his stablemate before running out at Leopardstown last month.
Joseph O’Brien is also double-handed, with his brother Donnacha – champion Flat jockey in Ireland – taking the ride on Meticulous, who filled the runner-up spot behind Envoi Allen at Leopardstown.
O’Brien – who also runs Thurles winner Sempo – told At The Races: “I thought Meticulous ran very well behind Envoi Allen at the Dublin Racing Festival. He should have learned from the experience he got there and we’re looking forward to him.
“We’ve always liked Sempo at home, but Cheltenham wasn’t really in our minds for him until he won in very good style at Thurles the last day.”
Willie Mullins has saddled nine previous winners of the Champion Bumper – first striking gold when training and riding Wither Or Which to claim top honours in 1996.
The Irish champion trainer’s subsequent victors include Florida Pearl (1997), Cousin Vinny (2008), Champagne Fever (2012) and last year’s winner Relegate, who led home a Mullins one-two-three.
This year the Closutton handler has just one runner in the four-year-old Blue Sari – who was snapped up by JP McManus after a hugely impressive debut victory at Gowran Park.
The trainer’s son Patrick was on board that day, but with Blue Sari getting an 8lb allowance from his elders, Mullins is unable to get down to his allotted weight of 10st 11lb, so Barry Geraghty will take over in the saddle.
Mullins junior said: “I think it will be the first time since 2007 I haven’t ridden in the race. Ruby (Walsh) doesn’t have a ride, either.
“Blue Sari is a very laid-back individual, which is a huge advantage in a race like this.
“He’s a French-bred horse, so he’s a bit different to a lot of four-year-olds and I think he goes there with a huge chance.”
Paul Nicholls runs Ask For Glory and Flic Ou Voyou, while other leading contenders for the home team include the Colin Tizzard-trained Master Debonair and Alan King’s mare The Glancing Queen.
King said: “The Glancing Queen is good. I’m happy to let her go on this ground, although I would prefer it if it didn’t get too much softer. I would have thought having already won at the track is a bonus.
“She also ran very well at Ascot in a Listed race, particularly as she didn’t get all of her mares’ allowance. I’m not saying she will win on Wednesday, but hopefully she will run a nice race.”