The Allen key

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French breeder Bruno Vagne is no stranger to success at the Cheltenham Festival, thanks to Espoir d’Allen, the winner of the 2019 Champion Hurdle and Envoi Allen, the winner of the Champion Bumper race that same year. Yet, even he admits he is slightly overwhelmed by the thought that no less than four of his home bred AQPS are going to line up in one of the events at this year’s Festival. After all, some breeders spend a lifetime hoping to see one of their horses at Cheltenham, let alone four in one week! And they are not just any runners, but serious chances like the Philip Hobbs trained Celebre d’Allen who is well handicapped to make a splash in the Cheltenham Craft Irish Whiskey C. Plate Handicap Chase or Eldorado Allen who is fancied to give fellow French bred Allaho a run for his money in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase on Thursday, while the four-year-old Icare Allen is hoping to follow in French bred Burning Victory’s hoof steps when he runs in the Grade 1 JCB Triumph Hurdle on Friday. And then there is Envoi Allen, whose third place in the Queen Mother Champion Chase was especially pleasing since his last few runs had not been very convincing.

So what is the key to these “Allen” horses, why do they do particularly well at Cheltenham?

“It’s always a bit of a miracle, as you never know what you get when horses are born, but I think it is because of the way I work,” Bruno Vagne laughs a little embarrassed. “I always look for a lot of speed when I cross bloodlines. I look to improve the base speed and the stamina. There is a lot of stamina in the families that I have. So, I have solid horses that can run over the longer trips and just have that edge, that turn of foot that makes a difference on the track at Cheltenham.”

Vagne is well known in France, but admits he enjoys most of his success abroad and he pursues: “The reality is that as soon as we have a good horse in France, it gets sold to England, which is probably due to the success they have at Cheltenham. I am just a breeder, not an owner and I actually believe that the way horses are trained in the UK and Ireland suits my horses.” Vagne was in Cheltenham when Espoir d’Allen and Envoi Allen scored a remarkable double in 2019, but he won’t be here this year. “You won’t believe it, but I forgot to get my passport renewed,” he laughs now even more embarrassed. “Before Brexit it was easy, you could just go over with the French National ID card, but that is no longer possible. But luckily we have Equidia, so I will be following the action on telly.”

He might have missed out on Cheltenham this year, but maybe there is still time to get his passport renewed in time for the Grand National where Enjoy d’Allen, who was bought only two weeks ago by JP McManus, is one of the leading fancies.

“Yes,” Vagne concludes. “That would be something else wouldn’t it? A Grand National winner, yes, I would like that!” Wouldn’t we all?