The Supreme Novices Hurdle is an exhilarating way to kick off the Cheltenham Festival. A big field of pacey two-mile novices will always include a couple of young horses with tall reputations to defend when the tape goes up, and in recent years there have been a couple of notable burst bubbles come the walk back to the unsaddling area.
Betfair Hurdle winner My Tent Or Yours and stand out Irish contender Jezki will be attempting to succeed where the likes of Cousin Vinny and Dunguib have recently fallen short, and with both being owned by the legendary JP McManus it’s a short price that the green and gold hoops end up as the first colours in the winners enclosure in March. The race has thrown up a couple of high-class winners in recent years, with both Hors La Loi III and Brave Inca going on to win the Champion Hurdle.
Last year’s renewal of the race was one of the more open affairs, with Galileo’s Choice going off favourite at an SP of 6/1- he never got going and the race went to another well-fancied runner in Cinders And Ashes, trained by the rising talent Donald McCain. The form of the 2012 contest hasn’t worked out particularly well other than the exploits of the unfortunate Darlan, and despite still trading at around 16/1 for the Champion Hurdle Cinders And Ashes has suffered a couple of heavyish defeats this term.
The current market was heavily shaken up at the weekend thanks to the exploits of potential star My Tent Or Yours, and to a lesser extent Melodic Rendezvous’ defeat of Puffin Billy at Exeter. Jezki has been usurped as favourite, but there is an outside chance of him regaining his position at the head of the market with consideration apparently being given to MTOY running in the Champion Hurdle despite his novice status.
Supreme Novices Trends:
9/10 were aged five or six – Captain Cee Bee was just a year older at seven.
14/16 had won their last race.
8/14 have been trained in Ireland, although the last three winners have all been trained over here.
13/16 horses to start 3/1 or shorter have been beaten – Cue Card (7/4), Dunguib (4/5) and Cousin Vinny (9/4) have all got supporters of the favourite off to the worst possible start.
Supporters of the jolly will be sweating when they read that statistic, although as a six-year-old who has won his last race he ticks a couple of the trends boxes. His trainer Nicky Henderson would be the first man to train three Supreme winners should MTOY or one of his other contenders get the job done, with his two successes coming way back in 1986 and 1992!
MY TENT OR YOURS
Desert Prince (IRE) (9.2f) — Spartan Girl (IRE) (Ela-Mana-Mou (12.3f))
Notes: Already had plenty of mentions in this preview thanks to his eye-popping effort at Newbury, after which he was slashed across the boards for this race. Looks like connections always knew he was a good one seeing as he went off 10/11 on his bumper debut in a field of 13! Like a few recent winners of the Supreme Novices he ran in some of the better bumpers and finished second in the big one at Aintree behind his fellow promising novice The New One- probably nothing worth reading into, but could be interesting that connections swerved the Cheltenham version. Once the serious stuff got going he beat a subsequent Grade One winner (Jonjo’s Taquin Du Seuil) on his debut over timber, and it was apparent after the way he pulled in that race that he would be a whole lot better coming off a good pace in a bigger field. I doubt there is any need to read into him getting beaten next time at Newbury as from the off it was obvious the horse would be looked after, and he was back to his usual self in making a mess of a Huntingdon novice hurdle field while hard on the steel soon after. Visually it was already apparent that the horse had a massive engine before he even lined up in the Betfair Hurdle and so it wasn’t much of a shock to see him tanking away well after halfway, however as one-by-one all of the others came under pressure and he was still swinging on the bit it was obvious that MTOY was one serious tool! With the ‘right’ horses filling the places it’s still difficult to gauge how good he might be, especially as Zarkandar won the same race off just 2lbs higher last year and went on to run very well in the Champion Hurdle. It’s not surprising MTOY is being considered for a potential Champion Hurdle raid seeing as the performance earned a ridiculous Timeform rating for a novice, plus JP already has the former clear favourite Jezki in the Supreme. It is definitely hard to knock his Newbury effort as he could have been even better off a stronger pace, although it is worth noting that he didn’t look to find an awful lot off the bridle once McCoy let him down. That may be very picky but having run on only flat tracks where speed is a most powerful weapon it is worth bearing in mind that he is yet to have a battle and will have the Prestbury Park hill as an enemy in March. Overall though, winning such a competitive handicap on the bridle off 149 clearly makes My Tent Or Yours a worthy favourite.
Milan (13.8f) — La Noire (IRE) (Phardante (FR ) (12.7f))
Notes: Up until Saturday Jezki had been a very strong favourite for the Supreme off the back of a quartet of impressive hurdling efforts in the Emerald Isle. He’s already won two solid-looking trials for this race – the Royal Bond and Future Champions Novice Hurdles- with both being Grade One events. Much like the horse who has usurped him in the Supreme betting Jezki has always travelled like a very good horse, and in winning his two Grade Ones he also showed that his jumping had been ironed out through a combination of schooling and match practice. The effective combo of improved leaping and raw ability saw him run away with the Future Champions race at Leopardstown by six lengths from the talented Waaheb, with the race run at a frantic early tempo that is nailed on to be replicated at Cheltenham. What may separate him from My Tent Or Yours at this stage is Jezki got himself in a bit of a fight in the Royal Bond when Champagne Fever refused to give in after the last – knowing that Jessica Harrington’s horse is up for the fight might be enough to tip things in his favour for me. Champagne Fever, the Champion Bumper winner, may not be a superstar but he had his own way up front and gives the form of the Royal Bond a solid look to it. With Jessica Harrington convinced better ground would do her boy a favour it is not hard to imagine him playing a massive part in the finish.
Where Or When (IRE) (10.3f) — Vic Melody (FR) (Old Vic (13.0f))
Notes: One for those who enjoy a less well-known trainer having a potential star. Jeremy Scott has had good horses before – Gone To Lunch was placed at the top-level as a novice – but this lad has the potential to be the best his trainer has got his hands on. A quick glance at his form would suggest the six-year-old would like plenty of rain before the Festival as all three of his successes over the sticks have been in heavy ground, however his trainer is adamant that a better surface would suit the son of Where Or When. The sire loved to hear his feet rattle when he was plying his trade on the level and from that point of view it would not be a surprise should Scott be right, but there can be no denying he has gone through the testing ground better than some of his opponents this winter. The Tolworth form has not really been put to the test yet, and it could be that he’s beaten a staying type in Pendra while Royal Boy didn’t jump like a good horse back in third. MR’s recent dramatic cut in price has left him a touch on the short side considering all was probably not well with his vanquished Exeter foe Puffin Billy – those who are on at the 14s and above pre-race have got themselves a good price. General quotes of around 8/1 are probably not far wrong, if not a bit on the short side considering the credentials of the top two in the market. Will have to defy a pretty strong trend if he’s to win the race as a 7yo.
Robin Des Champs (FR) — Badrapette (FR) (Bad Conduct (USA) (9.9f))
Notes: A real “could be anything” horse from the all-powerful Willie Mullins yard. The son of Robin Des Champs has won both of his hurdles starts very easily despite looking understandably novicey and with nothing having yet got close to getting him off the bridle it’s a real guess as to how good he could be. His trainer suggested he would be running stable-mate Champagne Fever in the Supreme as well which muddies the waters slightly, although as the pair are in different ownership it probably shouldn’t be seen as a lack of confidence in Un Atout. This fella does look a chaser of the future, and his sire is adept at getting good quality staying horses so the old saying “whatever he does over hurdles is a bonus” can be inserted here- thought what exactly he is going to do over hurdles isn’t easy to predict! With his trainer suggesting Un Atout would take his chance in the Deloitte this month it is worth waiting to see if he passes his first true examination as he cannot conceivably get too much shorter in the Supreme market…. unless he routs them!
Zagreb (USA) — Minor Tantrum (IRE) (Executive Perk (IRE) (10.8f))
Notes: Started life over obstacles by running Dodging Bullets to 1.5 lengths in a Grade Two at Cheltenham, a race Mr Henderson likes to aim a good horse at. With Dodging Bullets running well in the Christmas Hurdle, on paper it looks a huge effort from River Maigue to get close to him at Prestbury Park, albeit receiving 7lbs from the Nicholls horse. He’s since followed up by winning the same novice hurdle which Menorah claimed on his way to Supreme Novices glory and is another horse likely to line up for this year’s race who travels particularly well. The ground was heavy at Kempton when he beat New Years Eve and yet Henderson reckons he’s another who wants a sounder surface to show his best – it’s a line we’ve heard from several trainers about their runners in this race and I’m not convinced they are all going to be right! The runner-up hasn’t done his bit when it comes to upholding the form over Christmas by being beaten an almost identical distance at Plumpton next time, and with the Cheltenham race he made his debut in being a slowly run affair there is not a lot of solid form to go on with this animal. Could well be good enough but on balance it’s hard to recommend him at the prices.
Dubawi (IRE) (9.1f) — Nova Cyngi (USA) (Kris S (USA) (11.3f))
Notes: A rarity in that should he line up in the Supreme he would have run in two novice hurdles at the Festival. Didn’t make it easy for himself on his comeback this season although he eventually won nicely, and followed it up by winning a better event a month later – both over the Supreme course and distance. His second win is difficult to assess as he was always prominent in a slowly run race and as such was in a good position when the race got serious, however he did look unsuited to being asked to make his own running and could have been as much of a hindrance to him as a help. The Christmas Hurdle didn’t teach us a lot as it was farcically run, although Dodging Bullets did well to finish third having been held up off the pedestrian gallop they decided to go around Kempton. I think RPRs are a very useful guide in a lot of cases and his figure of 155 at Kempton may well be worth an upgrade considering where he was positioned if so that’s a high mark for a Supreme challenger. Ignoring the slow speed figures he’s recorded this season, if he has improved from the TS figure of 122 he ran to in the Triumph last season then he would have a definite chance of taking a hand in the finish. Add an excellent Cheltenham record to the equation and the answer may be a strong challenge from Paul Nicholls’ horse.
CHAMPAGNE FEVER: Last year’s Champion Bumper winner who has oddly had this race nominated as his target instead of the Neptune over further. Gave Jezki 3lbs and was beaten 1.5 lengths in the Royal Bond when allowed to dictate things and the Supreme should play to the strengths of the winner so tough to see where he reverses form. Despite Champagne Fever finishing 12 lengths clear of Jezki in the Bumper at Cheltenham it’s unlikely Jessie Harrington’s horse was as good as he is now and Willie Mullins’ grey is going to have his work cut out to get any closer than he did in the Royal Bond.
CHATTERBOX: The horse who beat My Tent Or Yours on desperate ground at Newbury. Followed up with another Newbury win in less demanding conditions and looks one of the more straightforward characters in the potential Supreme line-up. Whether or not he’s good enough to win is difficult to gauge, and with Henderson on record as saying he’s likely to need more time to develop it’s probably a case of hope rather than expectation that he can run well enough to go close in this race. His trainer was actually quoted as saying the horse was “unlikely to be anywhere near Cheltenham” so it’s interesting that he’s still in the mix almost midway through February.
PIQUE SOUS: Another from the Mullins yard who is totally unexposed. Like Un Atout he has run in a couple of egg and spoon races over in Ireland, being much more impressive in the second of them than on his debut over timber. Riding arrangements will give an idea of where he ranks in comparison to his stable-mates and his chances would increase with every ray of sunshine appearing from behind the clouds.
A real puzzle. My Tent Or Yours is unsurprisingly a strong favourite having done what he did in the Betfair Hurdle but there is a nagging doubt about the stiff track he’s got to face. His owner could well see him beaten by one of his own horses and with Jezki more battle-hardened I would find it difficult to choose between them at the prices. The rest are almost all typically unexposed novices, with Willie Mullins providing two of the real tough ones to get a handle on in Un Atout and Pique Sous. Un Atout has achieved an RPR of 153 from an ordinary enough novice hurdle – higher than either of the figures Jezki achieved for his two Grade Ones – and obviously has a ton of potential after only three starts but his winning has been done on heavy ground and plenty of his potential opponents are likely to be better on a sound surface.
With the weather playing havoc with the ground almost all season it is a tough ask to predict what could happen should the race be run on the expected better ground, however I am keen to take a chance on DODGING BULLETS improving for a true pace which he didn’t get at Cheltenham or Kempton this season. He ran very well over course and distance in the Triumph after only one hurdles start and has two wins over C&D to his name since. My Tent Or Yours may well win doing handsprings but the record of Supreme Novices jollies, his lack of Cheltenham experience and some fairly low-key speed figures mean he is just about opposable. Heavy ground would change things and Un Atout would be pushed towards the top of the list.
That’s what I think! What do you think?