Having covered the Championship races in our previous blogs, Declan Rix now tackles the Cheltenham Festival novice events, starting with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the contest that opens the four-day event.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle ante-post preview
Sixty-four horses have been entered for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and nearly half (31) of those are Irish trained. While a daunting number to get through, once you sort the wheat from the chaff, the race is far more manageable.
As you might imagine, the current Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins has a strong-looking list of possible accepters, but there is little doubt Min – the current race-favourite – is the horse that spearheads his attack.
A 5/4 shot, there is no point in wasting too much time with him given his price, he doesn’t fit the criteria for an ante-post bet. He is a high-class horse, as you might expect, but whether he should be as short in the betting is questionable.
In his only two starts for the Mullins team he has won by 14 and 9 ½ lengths, respectively. The form of those two victories have also been franked, but at a much lower level than Grade 1 standard.
It’s the style of the wins that has really caught the eye though; quick fluent jumping has aided Min in two facile successes. There is no doubt he can go faster and with those performances looking solid on the clock, Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins holds genuine chances of winning a fourth Supreme in-a-row.
The horse that may give Min most to think about is Altior (6/1). Trained by Nicky Henderson at Seven Barrows, this horse had a pretty high reputation at home in his early days and this season he has really shown it on the track.
Now unbeaten in four starts over hurdles, there is plenty to like about this son of High Chaparral. All but one of his victories this season have come in stylish fashion, the only performance that didn’t catch the eye was his Grade 2 success at Cheltenham.
A good rival in the ill-fated Maputo along with a small field and a lack of pace all contributed to a tough win, but it was at least pleasing to see him show a beautiful attitude and remain unbeaten over hurdles.
His keen-going nature is not suited to races run at a sedate pace – it nearly cost him at Cheltenham – but when the six-year-old got a good gallop to aim at on his latest start during the Festive period, he was simply brilliant in beating the field 13 lengths. While he probably beat a stayer, the win still went down as a career best.
Altior sets a high standard coming into the Supreme – higher than Min in fact – and is a thoroughly likeable horse. He jumps well in the main despite holding a chasers physique and he will be a tough rival for the favourite to conqueror.
Another Seven Barrows horse to respect in this year’s Supreme is Buveur D’Air (8/1). A classy bumper performer, this five-year-old is now unbeaten in two starts over hurdles and has really taken to the jumping game in style.
At Newbury on debut back in November, Buveur D’Air put himself firmly into the Supreme picture early doors with an easy 11 lengths victory. Jumping superbly well – like a real hurdler should – he travelled effortlessly on soft ground before Noel Fehily pushed the button and they scampered clear.
We had to wait two months for Nicky Henderson’s inmate to reappear, this start coming at Huntingdon at the end of January. The winning margin this time was 7 lengths, but that doesn’t tell the true story of his superiority. Like Newbury, it was all done is classy fashion.
Buveur D’Air needs to improve where the Supreme is concerned, but with connections eyeing up another run pre-Cheltenham (and post-this piece), there is every chance he will. He’s a hard horse to weigh up given the ease of his wins. He’s good though, no doubt; hopefully we see him on faster ground next time up.
Quicker terrain is also something we’d like to see recent Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle winner Bleu Et Rouge (12/1) compete on, but with just five weeks to go there is little chance of that. Willie Mullins’s charge caused a small shock when winning the Deloitte, after his better-fancied stablemate Bellshill flopped.
On just his third hurdles start the son of Charming Groom showed much improved form. JP McManus’s horse was far more tractable than previous runs and also jumped better for Barry Geraghty, who was ridding him for the first time.
The Deloitte has thrown up two of the last three winners of the Supreme and despite the favourite of this year’s race flopping (Bellshill) we still rate the form. Bleu Et Rouge is a tough horse, ideally suited for Cheltenham battle and is respected.
The chief sufferer of Bleu Et Rouge’s Deloitte win was Tombstone (12/1). Sent off second-favourite for the race some may have been disappointed he couldn’t uphold his Christmas run at Leopardstown with the winner on 2lb better terms, but he looked more of a racehorse last time out.
More exuberant than you’d like in is earlier hurdles efforts, Tombstone responded positively to the application of a first-time hood, apparatus to help him settle. Once more, despite being a chaser-in-the-making, he jumped nicely for a big horse.
Level with Bleu Et Rogue jumping the last obstacle, the son of Robin Des Champs was eventually beaten 3 lengths, the winner just outstaying him late on bad ground. The way he moves, faster conditions should suit and with him being trained by the excellent Gordon Elliott, is another to note.
The Graham Wylie-owned Yorkhill (7/1) is another to be considered in this year’s Supreme and he is yet another horse from Willie Mullins’s bulging stable.
Although he didn’t compete in any graded bumper last season, such was his authority and the caliber of foe he was beating, he still ranked highly in that sphere.
The son of Presenting has a lovely pedigree and comes from the family of high-class staying chaser The Listener. Despite his stout breeding and point-to-point win, Yorkhill has surprisingly shown plenty speed.
Having impressed in his maiden at Punchestown back in December, Willie Mullins thought so highly of him the six-year-old was stepped up to Grade 1 company a month later on just his second hurdles start. In the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown he’d win by a snug 2 ¼ lengths despite still appearing a touch green.
That win came on heavy ground, near bottomless, so it remains to be seen if Yorkhill can compete with the best of the two-mile novice hurdle division on a faster surface. He’s a good horse, but he still has to prove himself under Supreme Novices’ Hurdle conditions.
If there is a forgotten horse in this year’s race, it surprisingly may come from the Willie Mullins’ yard. Not many go under the radar from this stable, as you can imagine, but Bachasson may just be sneaking up on bookmakers.
He is currently a 33/1 shot with our traders, but that price is surely too big when you look at some of his form; quite simply, his odds are based on one run, his flop last time out in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival.
Sent off the 9/2 third-favourite, the son of Voix Du Nord could only manage a well-beaten eight of nine runners, trailing in over 10 lengths behind the winner Long Dog. We think he can be excused for the runner however, considering it was his sixth effort in as many months and it came on ground far too soft for his liking.
Being keen in his jockey’s hands on a course that demands stamina is another potential reason for his below par effort. All things considered, we are prepared to forgive him especially when you consider his current price.
Just two runs back he was second in a Grade 1 when pulling clear of the remainder. That form with Long Dog ties him in closely with many ahead of him in the market and it’s form that has gone on to be franked too.
On faster ground coming in a fresher horse, we will hopefully the real Bachasson. A big-field, strongly run race where he can get cover may just bring out the best in him.
Best of the Rest
Henry De Bromhead’s Supasundae (16/1) just didn’t make it on to the main list, but he is a nice horse. Not too long ago he defeated Yanworth, the current hot-favourite for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, in an Ascot bumper.
He then ran a great race in last year’s Cheltenham Champion Bumper to finish seventh despite being far too keen. A big positive is he seems a far more settled horse this year and it’s enhanced his ability to stay. While the case however, his hurdles form is not as good as many, if not all, of the above.
Modus (25/1) and Sternrubin (40/1) are two high-class novice handicappers to note. Both may improve enough to warrant a higher inclusion by the time the Festival comes, but they need to take nice jumps to compete prominently here and are best left for now.
Petit Mouchoir (33/1) is high-class horse, but is hard to recommend on the back of his Deloitte Novice Hurdle flop where he was far too keen and jumped poorly. It’s hard to envisage the now eight-year-old Silver Concorde (25/1) going close despite his Festival form of winning the 2014 Champion Bumper.
Last year’s Festival bumper winner Moon Racer (25/1), despite not even running over hurdles yet, is reportedly still being aimed here. That is surprising and possibly the wrong call given his lack of jumping experience. Either way, he has to be taken on under the circumstances should he line up.
Kim Bailey’s Charbel (25/1) is a talented, but quirky horse. He has a touch of class, but is fighting for place prospects at best. Alan King’s once-raced Winter Escape (33/1)is a hugely interesting horse for the future that gets a positive mention.
The BetBright Verdict
As ever, a competitive start to the Festival with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. A likely big field and strong pace means luck in-running and jumping will be tested.
At the prices, it’s a no-brainer to take the 5/4 favourite Min on. His keen-going nature has to be a worry especially if the Cheltenham buzz manages to exacerbate this.
His fluent jumping his flawless however, and this may be his best weapon. He is too short given what he has done on the racetrack, but a classy-looking animal that is owned by Rich Ricci and trained by Willie Mullins must always get maximum respect.
Buveur D’Air has a similar profile to Min, he has only run twice over hurdles this season and won both starts easily. He also jumps well, but all of his form this season has come on quite testing surfaces and this is a small concern. His general form also needs to improve, but with another run scheduled he may do just that as March nears.
The JP McManus-owned Bleu Et Rouge is another that has done all his running on testing ground. Like Buveur D’Air, this horse has a French pedigree and boasts a knee action.
Faster going may not suit. Given the stamina he showed in winning the Deloitte, the Neptune would look a better race for him, but with Yanworth set to represent connections there, Bleu Et Rouge may run in the Supreme and is probably worth taking on given the concerns.
The exact same doubts we have about Yorkhill. He is a Grade 1 winner over two miles, but that came on bottomless ground and with a proper staying pedigree he is another that may hold a sounder chance in the Neptune.
Despite being beaten last time out, Tombstone took a step in the right direction. That came on soft ground, but looking at how he moves he will surely be better on a faster surface.
There has been plenty of talk about Gordon Elliott’s horse, connections really rate him, and he might just be the type to improve on slicker sod. He just misses out where this piece is concerned, however.
The two horses we really like are Altior and Bachasson. The former’s chance is obvious while the latter looks a big price on some of his form.
Nicky Henderson has hit the crossbar many times in the Supreme in recent seasons, the Seven Barrows trainer has had his fair few placed horses. ALITOR may be one to break that hoodoo. A strong pace on spring ground will really show this horse at his very best, he holds outstanding claims and offers much better value than Min.
BACHASSON is the forgotten horse of the race. For arguments sake, if he didn’t run at Leopardstown over Christmas he’d probably be half the price he is now.
He is another who will benefit for good ground and a strong pace. It’s not ideal he hasn’t run since December, but Willie Mullins produced Shaneshill to run second off a similar break last year so hopefully he can repeat the feat.
1pt win Altior @6/1
1pt each-way Bachasson @33/1
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.