The graveyard of ‘good things’ that is the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, will as per-usual, be greeted with a vociferous roar as it opens the 2012 Cheltenham Festival.
A Grade 1 in stature, the Supreme is open to novices’ aged four and above and consists of an extended two miles on the Old Course, with eight flights to navigate en route.
Winning last time out is a plus, as is doing so within forty-five days of the race, a race in which the Irish have a strong record, but short priced favourites do not.
Steps To Freedom – Jessica Harrington
6yo bay gelding
Statue Of Liberty (USA) – Dhakhirah (IRE) (Sadler’s Wells (USA))
A winner of the Aintree Champion Bumper, when under the care of Gordon Elliott, he has made a smooth transition into hurdling; barely breaking sweat when landing a maiden hurdle, before accounting for Sailors Warn a shade cosily, when stepped into Grade 3 company. Narrowly saw off Prospect Wells to land the Grade 2 Sharp Novices’ Hurdle in mid-November, remaining unbeaten in the process, not to mention proving his ability to handle the demands of Cheltenham. Was put away after that win, and as a result, his trainer has indicated a run on the all-weather may be on the agenda, pre-Cheltenham now. Absence aside, my imagination hasn’t been captured and given the odds on offer, onward we go.
Simonsig – Nicky Henderson
6yo grey gelding
Fair Mix (IRE) – Dusty Too (UK) (Terimon (UK))
Somewhat unfortunate not to have finished undefeated in his three point-to-point runs, prior to his arrival at Seven Barrows, and fair to say the regard in which was held thereafter, certainly preceded his hurdling debut at Ascot. Said debut was as impressive as it was bloodless and lost little in defeat two weeks later, when finding Fingal Bay too strong in the Grade 2 Winter Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown. Travelled very strongly throughout that day, giving the impression a drop to this trip would cause no problems (easy winner of a Fairyhouse bumper at two miles back in April), and as such, he would be right at the top of my shortlist, but for the fact his trainer has indicated on more than one occasion that the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle is his preferred destination.
Cinders & Ashes – Donald McCain Jnr
5yo bay gelding
Beat Hollow (UK) – Moon Search (UK) (Rainbow Quest (USA))
Dual bumper winner, who ran respectable races at Cheltenham and Aintree last year, but appeared to be ultimately found out in top company. Unlucky not to make a winning start over obstacles at Ascot, recovering well from a bad blunder only to be seen off by Broadbackbob after the last, but gained compensation at Aintree when brushing aside Keys and Ile De Re. Another two easy wins have followed, the latest at Grade 2 level, but the opposition has been sparse and this will require a lot more. At the prices, he makes no great appeal, but folly to dismiss anyhow.
Darlan – Nicky Henderson
5yo brown gelding
Milan (UK) – Darbela (IRE) (Doyoun (UK))
Has come a long way in a short space of time, having only made his debut back in April, when destroying seven rivals in a Haydock bumper. A comfortable victory at Kempton was followed by a gutsy one at Cheltenham, then a cheeky one at Taunton, but the form of those three successes are not looking all that strong and his credentials will come under far greater examination at the weekend, when he lines up for the Betfair Hurdle. Like the horse above, until shown otherwise, I’m not convinced he is quite good enough, thus making his current odds of little interest.
Trifolium – Charles Byrnes
5yo bay gelding
Goldneyev (USA) – Opium Des Mottes (FR) (April Night (FR))
Needed three attempts to get off the mark over hurdles, but hasn’t looked back since. Made light work of Plan A at Limerick and threatened to turn over So Young at Navan, midway through January, but paid the price for racing too keenly. Very impressive last weekend however, when drawing clear in a matter of strides in what beforehand looked a quite competitive Grade 2. Been on the go more than most, but certainly not exposed and appears to be improving steadily, though given his best performances have come on heavy ground, a chance would need to be taken on his ability to handle and/or perform on the better going he is likely to encounter come March.
Colour Squadron – Phillip Hobbs
6yo bay gelding
Old Vic (UK) – That’s The Goose (IRE) (Be My Native (USA))
Wide margin bumper winner who only found It’s A Gimme slightly too strong in a warm Newbury maiden hurdle a month on from his debut success. Returned three weeks later in another warm looking contest, where he saw off Montbazon in gritty fashion, a characteristic that was again evident in the Tolworth Hurdle back in January. I think it’s fair to say he threw the race away that day though, when hanging badly left in the closing stages, but likable attitude aside, he surely faces a tough ask here, if tasked with trying to run the finish out of a this field.
Sous Les Cieux – Willie Mullins
6yo chestnut gelding
Robin Des Champs (FR) – Joie De La Vie (FR) (Quart de Vin (FR))
Fell short of expectations on debut, when turned over at short odds, but no mistake second time round when scoring all but on the snaff. Stepped up straight into Grade 1 company thereafter, and a lot to like about the way he dispatched a select, yet solid Royal Bond field, winning with plenty in hand. Ran with the choke out for the entirety of the Future Champions Novice Hurdle, when only a disappointing third behind Cash & Go, but I don’t believe for one minute that was his true running and much better is expected if taking up his entry in the Deloitte Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday. That said, he does hold an entry for the Neptune next month, alongside the Supreme, and with his trainer not lacking in contenders for either race, second-guessing who will go where is unadvisable at the present time.
Others of note:
Galileos Choice was firmly put in his place by Sous Les Cieux and even accounting for the fact that was only his second start over hurdles, quite why he takes up such a prominent position in the market, I don’t really understand. Midnight Game was well beaten in the same race, but has staked a claim since, with good victories at Leopardstown and Naas, though he still has many a question to answer, given the calibre of opposition he faced on those two occasions. I’m far more interested in one of the other Gigginstown/Mullins entries, Make Your Mark, who did just that, when winning a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown and travelled very strongly behind Boston Bob in unsuitable conditions not too long ago; though at this point, you’d presume the Supreme is not destination numero uno for that promising type. Cash & Go is progressing nicely with each run and although I’d rather be with Sous Les Cieux at their current prices, in the belief that he is actually the better horse, that shouldn’t detract from the respect I think the Edward O’Grady charge merits.
As for this side of the Irish Sea, although I like him as a horse, even if good enough, I’m just not sure Prestbury Park is the best track for Keys and while on that subject, I’m having difficulty seeing Prospect Wells fending off challengers a plenty, up the Cheltenham Hill too, so with mirrored comments applying to Montbazon, all three are dropped from calculations.
Tolworth winner Captain Conan will put his claims on the line in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle on Sunday, and although I’m not convinced he will ultimately prove fast enough to win a Supreme, judgement will be on hold till then. One that certainly should be fast enough is the Pearl Bloodstock representative, Vulcanite, who gave Tetlami a scare at Kempton, before delivering a fluent and improved effort at Southwell and for all that the latter, a smart bumper performer in his own right, has returned from an absence with two sound displays, finding plenty for pressure on both occasions, I find the former the more intriguing candidate.
All The Aces was a fair sort on the level for the much missed Michael Jarvis, and hasn’t done a lot wrong in his two starts to date over hurdles, thus merits a mention, alongside Agent Archie who made light work of Ingelby Spirit back in November, and has seen said form boosted since. I’d certainly chalk him down as an interesting outsider, a category I’d maybe put the fast-tracked Balder Success into as well, if he wasn’t almost certainly Triumph bound.
A wide open renewal as a result of no real stand-out contender presenting itself (as of yet), but given the recent history of the race, that only results in it being harder to know where to begin. Simonsig would interest me most with the top of the market in mind, but with the Neptune a distinct possibility, at this stage he is not an antepost proposition. I’d want to wait till after the dust settled on Sunday, with regards to Sous Les Cieux and as such, a somewhat tentative vote goes to the Charlie Longsdon trained Vulcanite. The son of Dubawi was a rather classy horse on the flat, and with his jumping starting to come together now, after a shaky introduction, any translation of that ability to this code would see him firmly in with a shout. His tendency to race freely should be negated by the ‘big league’ pace he is likely to encounter on March 13th, and with a testing engagement held for this weekend, now might be the time to get him onside, in the hope he comes through it, reputation enhanced.