Timeform preview the best of the action in Ireland on Sunday...
The Lawlor's of Naas Novice Hurdle, which takes place on Sunday, has an impressive recent roll of honour, with the 2016 Grand National winner Rule The World, Death Duty and Battleoverdoyen all successful in the race in the last decade.
Death Duty and Battleoverdoyen are trained by Gordon Elliott, and have both gone on to win at the highest level over fences, something Elliott will be hoping that Envoi Allen, the hot favourite for this year's renewal of the Grade 1, will be able to replicate.
So, what makes Envoi Allen stand out from his rivals?
On Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings, Envoi Allen is 16 lb clear of his nearest rival Midnight Run. Envoi Allen also still has the Timeform Large P attached to his rating, suggesting that he is still open to significant improvement on just his third start over hurdles. His one-and-a-half-length beating of stablemate and subsequent Grade 1 winner Abacadabras sets a lofty standard here and he is impossible to oppose with the extra four furlongs sure to suit on pedigree/run style.
For one that cost £400,000 as a four-year-old after winning on his debut in points, it isn't a surprise that Envoi Allen takes the eye in the flesh. A good-topped gelding, he will almost certainly jump a fence in the future, and the manner in which he has taken to hurdling only bodes well for that discipline.
After Envoi Allen's exploits in bumpers last season, there was no doubting his attitude or ability heading into this campaign, but just how he would take to hurdling was a question mark. However, he has done nothing but impress in that department on both of his starts to date, looking very nimble over his obstacles on his debut at Downpatrick, and showing that he can go right to the very top in the novice division this season when winning a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse last time.
Gordon Elliott has never held any secret the regard in which he holds Envoi Allen and has always said he will improve for the step up to two and a half miles over hurdles. He noted him to have done very well physically throughout the off season and Envoi Allen has done nothing but impress this term. Envoi Allen has always hit the headlines given the amount of money he changed hands for but that looks money well spent even at this early stage of his career.
Midnight Run was clearly not at his best when trailing in last of nine behind Envoi Allen at Fairyhouse last time and much better is expected now. It is worth remembering he was sent off the 6/1 third favourite on that occasion, so clearly much better was expected, and the form of his debut win over hurdles at Cork - for which the visual impression remains fresh in the memory - is proving strong.
Elixir d'Ainay confirmed the promise of his hurdling debut after 10 months off on his return to action at Naas and is another who comes into the reckoning. He beat the reopposing Longhouse Poet by one and three quarter lengths on that occasion, and that rival has since confirmed the form in his own right. There should be more to come from the pair of them and are also worth a mention.
Elsewhere on the card
There is an interesting novice chase (13:20) which features plenty of potential improvers who could be mixing it at the spring festivals. Willie Mullins has won the race three times since 2011 and again holds a strong hand with both Tornado Flyer and Cash Back. The pair arrive unbeaten over fences, but it is perhaps telling that Paul Townend sides with Tornado Flyer having won on Cash Back last time.
Tornado Flyer was the better of the duo over hurdles and has currently achieved more over fences, too, winning both starts in this sphere so far. The one concern, however, is the drop back to two miles. He didn't seem suited by the 17-furlong trip at Navan last time, simply taking advantage of his rivals being below form.
He therefore could be worth opposing, with Zero Ten making plenty of appeal. A winning pointer, whatever he achieved over hurdles was always going to be a bonus, and he made an immediate impact over fences when winning a maiden at Galway in July. Admittedly, that form isn't anything special, and he has an absence to overcome, but he won with plenty in hand on that occasion, and doesn't look out of place in this field.
Back Zero Ten in the 13:20 at Navan on Sunday