Our expert casts his eye over the current ante-post field for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, with less than eight weeks to go before it officially opens the Cheltenham Festival.
The traditional curtain raiser to the greatest horseracing festival of them all, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle has provided race-goers with a brilliantly fast and exciting introduction to the Cheltenham Festival. The early atmosphere on day one at Cheltenham is always electric and it often feels as if the young novices contesting this Grade 1 prize are feeding off the crowd’s energy, as they set the Prestbury Park turf alight during this two mile gallop.
The illustrious roll of honour for this prestigious event features many of the sport’s top stars in recent years – including Brave Inca, Menorah, Vautour and Douvan. Altior stormed to success last year - in a barn-storming race which kicked-off an incredible first day’s action at the festival - and the current field for the 2017 renewal could get us off to an equally as impressive start, come March 14th.Melon
) was kept hidden during the first half of the season, before making his long-awaited debut for Willie Mullins in January. The Medicean gelding is a half-brother to another Mullins’ charge, Sempre Medici and there were whispers when he arrived from France that he was the Mullins’ most exciting novice prospect. He lived up to his sizeable reputation with a comfortable victory, stretching to a ten length victory on good Leopardstown ground, without Ruby Walsh reaching for the whip.
Willie Mullins has been dominant in this race for the past five years, so it's no surprise to see him come to Cheltenham with a large ground of Supreme Challenger. Crack Mome
) and Cilaos Emery
) were both odds-on to carry winning form with the to Cheltenham on the final, pre-festival appearance, but surprising defeats for both have seen them drop down the Supreme betting.
Bunk Off Early
(13/2 Paddy Power
) will be the Mullins' second string star with the best chance of claiming victory here. The Deloitte Hurdle has long been recognised as a good trial for the Triumph - Bunk Off Early looked set to win that race last month, but he was pipped to the post by Neptune challenger and fellow Mullins entrant, Bacardys. An 82 rated flat racer as a three-year-old, the youngster had won convincingly on his first start over hurdles earlier in the season and looks plenty quick enough to hang with the big boys here.
Willie Mullins will be looking for a fourth Supreme Novices' win in the last 5 years.
The eight-year-old’s maiden outing over jumps came at Perth in September, where the odds-on favourite was made to work hard for his victory, pushed all the way to the post by Ballyandy
). His next victory was much more impressive, landing the Supreme Trial Novices’ in comfortable fashion. He heads to Cheltenham with an unbeaten record around the famous course, having come away victorious on all three of his visits to Gloucestershire – so it’s no surprise to see his name near the head of the ante-post betting.
Nigel Twiston-Davies shoved Ballyandy up in trip after that defeat to Moon Racer at Cheltenham, taking on a good field over two-and-a-half miles in the Grade 2 Winter Novices' Hurdle at Sandown. A win there would have surely pushed him towards a tilt at the Neptune, but Messire Des Obeaux got up late on to resign last year's Champion Bumper winner to second place. The six-year-old then landed his maiden Graded prize over jumps in the Betfair Handicap Hurdle at Newbury. Both he and Movewiththetimes
(9/1 William Hill
) made smooth headway throughout the race and went head-to-head for the title after the last, but it was Ballyandy who came out victorious, thrusting himself into the Supreme Novices' title picture in the process.
) and River Wylde
(12/1 William Hill
) will be defending unbeaten hurdling records when they arrive at Cheltenham. High Bridge beat the dangerous Azzerti in confident fashion on his last outing in February and Ben Pauling's charge has got a good flat racing pedigree to back up his claims. As has River Wylde, who has looked even stronger since leaving the flat racing world behind and even managed to land the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices' Hurdle at Kempton on his final pre-Festival prep run. Elgin
(33/1 Paddy Power
) was second that day to River Wylde, repeating the finish he managed in the Rossington Main Hurdle at Haydock at the end of January. Alan King's charge won well at Kempton's Christmas meeting, after beating the well fancied Dubai Angel on his maiden run over hurdles. All three hold genuine each-way claims.
Bunk Off Early looks like an excellent prospect for Willie Mullins, Ballyandy brings the best seasonal form into the race and he holds a win at the Cheltenham Festival to his name already. High Bridge has beaten some very handy horses this season in impressive fashion and he looks a much more appealing each-way prospect than some of the other outsiders, but looking back to the head of the betting, you get the feeling MELON could be something special.
His inactivity this season shouldn't put punters off as plenty of Supreme winners have come into Cheltenham with just one or two seasonal runs under their belts. There was a rumour he had fallen victory to the injury curse that seems to have spread around Mullins' County Carlow yard this season, but that isn't the case and he will arrive at Cheltenham fighting fit and ready to go. He shot straight to the head of the betting after that solitary victory and it wouldn't be a surprise in the slightest if he put in a supreme showing in the opening race of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
1:30pm Cheltenham selection - MELON (4/1 Coral)