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 provides 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.
) may be the oldest entrant in the field, but he arguably boasts the best form of any of his Supreme rivals. David Pipe’s charge battled it out with Modus for the Champion Bumper title here back in 2015 and after that victory, big things were expected of him the following season. However, injury problems disrupted his debut jumping campaign and he wasn’t seen on a racecourse again until he reappeared at the Punchestown Festival last spring – finishing second to Blow By Blow in their Champion Flat contest.
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 at the head of the ante-post betting.Tom Scudamore riding Moon Racer to victory at Cheltenham earlier in the season.
Hot on the leader’s coattails is Cilaos Emery
(8/1 Sky Bet
), despite only having one outing over hurdles under his belt. The five-year-old made hard work of what was expected to be a routine victory on the flat at the Punchestown Festival, but he showed plenty of grit to stay on well under pressure and secure the win. He put in a much more imperious performance on his jumping debut, leaving favourite Joey Sasa – who has subsequently landed a big prize at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival – over six lengths in his wake as he romped to an easy victory. Willie Mullins enjoyed an excellent first day at the festival last year, he will be hoping this talented novice will get him off to another flying start.
Another interesting Mullins’ runner in the ante-post market is Melon
(14/1 William Hill
), who is yet to tackle a hurdle so far this season. 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. His inactivity is a little worrying, but with entries in this race, the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett, Mullins must regard him as a good staying prospect, as well as a strong sprinter.
Two more Mullins’ novices to look out for in the ante-post market are Crack Mome
) and Chateau Conti
), who enjoyed mixed fortunes on their latests appearances. Crack Mome was the massive favourite to hand the Irish Champion Trainer a fifth successive victory in the Moscow Flyer Hurdle at Punchestown. The favourite was held up for most of that contest and was found a little wanting for finishing pace by Any Second Now
), who claimed a surprise victory ahead of the expected champion. Chateau Conti also went off odds-on for his jumping debut at Cork, after winning two from three in French flat contests. He led the 19 strong field from the front and despite a couple of dodgy leaps, no-one else in the field could touch him, running out to an impressive seven length victory.
) produced one of the best performances at Leopardstown over Christmas, when the 9/2 shot worked his way through an impressive field - which included Peace News
(33/1 William Hill
) and Riven Light
), two more possible Cheltenham rivals – eventually tracking down Brelade at the front and landing a huge victory in the Grade 1 Future Champions Hurdle. He finished second to the impressive mare, Airlie Beach earlier that month, after cruising to victory at Naas on his hurdling debut.Willie Mullins will be looking for a fourth Supreme Novices' win in the last 5 years.
Nicky Henderson’s Jenkins
(20/1 Sky Bet
) was sitting happily amongst the favourites when the initial Supreme ante-post odds were released and did his claims no harm at all when winning on debut, in a good quality race at Newbury. He was expected to land with another win at Kempton on Boxing Day, but as he tamely dropped back through the field, eventually finishing fourth behind impressive winner Elgin
(25/1 William Hill
), his Supreme odds took an appropriate nose-dive. He is obviously a classy operator though and shouldn’t be counted out too quickly.
It took Henderson a long time to win back the Supreme Novices’ trophy, with Altior’s victory last year coming 24 years after his last triumph with Flown back in 1992, so he won’t want to give up the title so easily. He will be hoping Lough Derg Spirit
) can recapture his best form, after a disappointing last outing at Ascot - with another of his Seven Barrows charges, William Henry
(33/1 William Hill
) out to build on a solid victory at Newbury in December.
Willie Mullins is bound to play a very strong hand when the final declarations are made for the Supreme Novices Hurdle, but he will face stiff competition from his British and Irish counterparts. It’s no surprise to see the promising Cilaos Emery near the head of the betting, but Saturnas has been equally as impressive this season and could be the Mullins runner to have a punt on with an each-way, ante-post wager.
It would be a surprise to see Moon Racer put in a bad run, but at his current odds, he isn’t worth betting on just yet. Jenkins will be desperate to mend his fractured reputation after that shocking performance at Kempton and it would be a major disappointment if a horse of his undoubted potential put in another woeful display. He could be a good each-way gamble, but looking at the current odds, it’s a Paul Nicholls runner who draws the eye.
The striking grey has landed a Graded prized already this season.
(33/1 William Hill
) will be the Champion Trainer’s best chance of recapturing the title he last won with Al Ferof seven years ago. The five-year-old was second in a Grade 1 to a very good horse in the shape of Finian’s Oscar on his last appearance and, if it wasn’t for a shuddering error on his final jump, the two could have been much closer together at the finishing post. He romped to a superb front-running victory in the Grade 2 Kennel Gate at Ascot earlier in the winter - which was billed as a Supreme Trial Hurdle - and he has failed to finish outside the top two in any of his career starts to date.
The five-year-old looks to be a strong galloping, good ground type - which should suit him very well when he makes the journey to Cheltenham in March. He looks like an excellent each-way prospect in the current Supreme Novices’ ante-post market.
14/3/2017 1:30pm Cheltenham selection - CAPITAINE each-way (33/1 William Hill)