The opening contest on Champion Day which signals the start of the Cheltenham Festival, the Supreme Novices Hurdle has been renowned for its famous “roar” as the tapes go up, as punters and bookmakers look to trade blows over four days of action packed racing. Jamie Taylor takes a look through the 2014 renewal, and gives you this thoughts on what is sure to be an exciting encounter.
Last year saw a high-class renewal despite the small field, and the race didn’t disappoint with a thrilling finish between Champagne Fever, Betfair Hurdle winner My Tent Or Yours and Jezki the perceived best of the Irish contingent. It was however to be the gallant grey Champagne Fever who would continue his love affair with the famous Cheltenham racecourse having won the Champion Bumper a year previous.
This race can be a pointer towards both Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup success in the future, so it is worth keeping in mind the principle finishers in this contest with a view to future big race success.
Last 6 winners each posted an RPR of 137+ on their most recent start before the Supreme Novices.
15 of 17 winners each won last time out, the other two winners placed.
10 of 11 winners had run in the last 55 days.
10 of 11 winners were aged between 5 and 6. Captain Cee Bee exception aged 7 back in 2008.
14/17 horses to start 3-1 or shorter have been beaten – My Tent Or Yours (15-8), 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.
THE TULLOW TANK
Oscar (IRE) (12.6f) — Bobbing Back (IRE) (Bob Back (USA) (12.4f))
Notes: Owned by one of the biggest owners over the Irish sea in Barry Connell, this six-year-old son of Oscar is a second season novice who was beaten in his first two starts over hurdles, before winning a bumper in impressive style at Fairyhouse, and then put away for the season. He returned for a maiden hurdle at Naas in November, and showed really good closing speed late on to run down the Willie Mullins trained Turnandgo close home. Philip Fenton’s gelding then pitched up in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse, a race won last year by Jezki who went on to place in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle behind Champagne Fever, where he showed excellent closing speed late on again to get the better of his nine rivals by a cosy 0.5L at the line. His final start was in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle (also won last year by Jezki), where his jumping wasn’t the best but the good gallop enabled him to draw right away from his rivals in the closing stages, using his powerful engine to good effect and score by a ready eight lengths. I remain to be convinced by what he beat that day, as Moyle Park has almost certainly ran below what was expected, and the remainder aren’t any great shakes in terms of the big races are concerned, but I like the way he finishes off his races. He looks the sort who will benefit from going a good end-to-end gallop, and being a half-brother to Many Clouds, you’d have to expect him to be thereabouts on the run towards the last come the big day.
Lavirco (GER) (10.0f) — Quintanilla (FR) (Royal Charter (FR) (12.0f))
Notes: Like The Tullow Tank above, Royal Boy is a second season novice who has reverted back to hurdles after a shocking display over fences on his first run back from a break. A solid second at Cheltenham to Melodic Rendezvous last year, he was a well beaten third behind that same rival at Sandown in the Tolworth Hurdle on his next outing. Returning over fences at Kempton in November, he was the size of a house on his return (would have come on plenty) but his jumping just wasn’t good enough to warrant continuing over fences, so he was dropped back in over hurdles for a maiden at Ascot, where he thoroughly outclassed his opposition showing the benefit for a recent run. His most recent start with a victory over stable-mate Josses Hill in the re-scheduled Tolworth Hurdle at Kempton, where he ground out a win over his lesser-experienced rival drawing a significant distance away from the third (142-rated Upazo). It looks likely he’ll be heading for the Neptune Investment Hurdle instead of the Supreme, but from what I’ve seen so far should he drop back in trip and take in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, then he’ll be a lively threat.
Winged Love (IRE) (13.7f) — Credora Storm (IRE) (Glacial Storm (USA) (13.0f))
Notes: This is a horse I like an awful lot. No match when green as grass on debut when thoroughly outclassed by the smart Faugheen. Josses Hill then switched yards from Andrew Oliver’s in Ireland, across to Nicky Henderson under new ownership in the shape of Alan Spence. He made his seasonal return with an impressive display in a run-of-the-mill bumper at Ascot in November, still visibly green in victory and winning with plenty more improvement in the tank, given that he idled once he hit the front, and was a touch keen throughout the contest. Connections wasted little time in sending him over hurdles, and three weeks later he was pitched in at Newbury for a maiden hurdle, against smart flat recruit Communicator amongst others. He jumped soundly on his first start but again displayed signs of greenness when Barry Geraghty asked him to go and win his race, and it took a while for the penny to drop but readily overpowered his rival as they cleared the last, and bounced away to an impressive success. Back in a four-length third that day was the 130-rated Tiqris, who has since gone on to victory on his next start. The manner in which Josses Hill dealt with him despite displaying signs of inexperience impressed me. His next effort came at Kempton, a track which shouldn’t have played to the strengths of this strong-striding sort for a crack at the rescheduled Tolworth Hurdle. He didn’t jump with the fluency displayed at Newbury on his previous start, but travelled supremely well throughout the contest displaying his big engine, thus keeping him in the contest against more experienced stable-mate Royal Boy. As the pair drew clear into the straight, Josses Hill battled gamely to try to fend off his stable-mate, and held a narrow advantage as the pair touched down over the last, but was worn down by his more battle hardened rival, whose stamina told late on in deep conditions. All in all I’ve been very impressed with Josses Hill so far, and I think a larger field with an end-to-end gallop on better ground will be the making of him, and he heads to Cheltenham with a serious chance.
Singspiel (IRE) (10.5f) — Indigo Girl (GER) (Sternkoenig (IRE) (12.7f))
Notes: Three from three over hurdles this former smart flat recruit from Germany appears to have transferred his flat ability over hurdles based on what I’ve seen so far. A facile winner of an egg-and-spoon race at Taunton on his debut, he followed that up with a powerful effort at Ascot winning as he liked with only potential rival Tradewinds failing to fire. Irving returned to Ascot for the Kennel Gate Novices (Grade 2) where he again stamped his authority over his rivals, and was still on the bridle as he swung upsides Prince Siegfried at the last when that rival took a tumble, before scampering away to beat fair rivals. He is entered in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury the weekend, and were he to win that his price for this race looks likely to tumble, but from what I’ve seen of him thus far I just think there will be one or two too good for the Paul Nicholls trained son of Singspiel and at the prices he doesn’t represent much in the way of value.
Robin Des Champs (FR) — Gazelle De Mai (FR) (Dom Pasquini (FR) (9.3f))
Notes: A horse with a typical big reputation given his connections, and from what I’ve seen so far that’s all he appears to be. His trained Willie Mullins has done well with progeny of his sire, the likes of Sir Des Champs and Quevega fine examples of that. An impressive winner of his maiden hurdle, he followed up that effort with a gritty display to narrowly edge out Western Boy at Punchestown in the Moscow Flyer Novices Hurdle on his most recent start. He is due to lock horns with that rival again in the Deloitte Novices Hurdle at Leopardstown at the weekend, a race won last season by stable-mate Champagne Fever prior to that one’s success in this very race a month later, so it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on.
West Wizard a horse who was ridiculously short for this race prior to ever having seen a hurdle, and was very disappointing on debut at Kempton hasn’t been seen since that effort but connections maintain he is a top-class horse, who will be seen at his best on decent ground. He’ll need to run again before the big race so we’ll know more then but amazing how he can still be so short in the market on what he’s shown thus far.
Valseur Lido another in-mate from the powerful Closutton team, he is very much a dark horse for this contest and has impressed with two bloodless victories since coming into Mullins’ care. He looks a horse with a big future ahead of him, although he is likely to be seen to best effect on softer ground, so do worry should the ground dry up as it usual does around Festival week.
The Liquidator ran too badly to be true at Kempton last time when well beaten by Royal Boy and Josses Hill, and wouldn’t be without a chance should he return to his optimum form shown prior to that effort. An impressive winner of a novice event when handing a thrashing to 150-rated Sea Lord with a pillar-to-post display at Cheltenham prior to that, he looks overpriced were he over whatever ailed him at Kempton the last day, he likes the track having finished a staying on fourth to Briar Hill in last year’s Champion Bumper and you’d have to give him a squeak should he turn up in good health.
First Mohican a very decent recruit off the flat has yet to make his debut over hurdles, but has looked the type capable of making the switch to the winter game. They are leaving it late in terms of experience for such a big race, but it wouldn’t be a surprise at all were he to go well were he to come through his debut experience.
Zamdy Man has improved leaps and bounds following a summer break, and downed the highly touted David Pipe trained Un Temps Pour Tout when last seen at Haydock. He has shown a liking for deep ground this winter, and making all neither of which he’ll get his own way in a months’ time and it would be hard to see him winning, despite his likeable gritty attitude.
Wicklow Brave another recruit for Willie Mullins who seems to have a strangle-hold on every major race these days, has come to the hurdling game after running up a string of victories in the bumper sphere. Readily disposes of his rivals over timber on his hurdles debut last month, he followed that up with a victory in similar style at Punchestown beating 130-rated Lieutenant Colonel by 4.5 lengths (1 less than his stable-mate Vautour had done previously). He is another dark horse, who given his pedigree is likely to improve for better ground and he can’t be discounted either.
A really open renewal to this Grade 1 contest, as is the norm with these sorts of events. The juice looks to have been squeezed out of the price of The Tullow Tank in recent days, and although I thoroughly expect him to be on the premises on the day I feel the value has now gone with him. Irving looks under-priced on what I’ve seen so far, although a big performance in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury the weekend could change that view. Wicklow Brave and Valseur Lido both dark horses from a powerful Willie Mullins camp who could well hold the keys to this contest, having also got the highly touted Vautour in his armoury. No matter how I look at this contest I find it hard to deviate away from JOSSES HILL, who has really impressed me with his attitude thus far, and given that he is improving for experience that effort in the Tolworth on just his second start over hurdles reads even more impressively to my eye. The likely quicker ground and faster pace will enable him to settle throughout the race, and he can use that powerful cruising speed to his advantage on the run towards the last. He is bred to stay much further, and will make a smashing chaser in time but the nature and mark up of this race looks ideal for him. Of the remainder The Liquidator appeals at around the 25-1 mark providing he can put that below-par effort behind him last time, he is overpriced based on that and is worth a small saver.