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 2015 renewal, and gives you this thoughts on what is sure to be an exciting encounter.
Last year saw Vautour spread-eagle his field with a masterful display of attacking jumping and powerful galloping to put all his rivals to the sword as they turned for home. Josses Hill was second best on the day, with Vaniteux running on for third.
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.
Over the years the race has proven a graveyard for favourite backers, with the likes of My Tent Or Yours, Cue Card, Dunguib and Cousin Vinny all getting turned over at short odds. In fact since 2005 only 3 winners of the race have returned less than 10/1, although 2 of those have come in the last two years in the shape of the Mullins unit.
- Last 7 winners each posted an RPR of 137+ on their most recent start before the Supreme Novices.
- 16 of 18 winners each won last time out, the other two winners placed.
- 11 of 12 winners had run in the last 55 days.
- 11 of 12 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.
Walk In The Park (IRE) — Star Face (FR) (Saint Des Saints (FR ))
Notes: Is very much the class horse in the race and if we take Timeform Ratings into account then the 156p he heads into this contest off rates well with Vautour’s 158p which was awarded for his romp in this race twelve months ago. He sets a high standard and has yet to be tested in either of his two races finishing hard on the steel both times. Whilst there is every possibility he is a superstar in waiting, he is currently untested on ground quicker than soft and out of a son of Montjeu gives me further reservations about his liking for the track. I admit this is fairly tenuous but at the current price of 2/1 with the history of horses at short prices getting turned over in this contest, I’d want to be 110% certain he has no potential chinks and I just can’t be sure of that at this stage.
King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f) — La Zingarella (IRE) (Phardante (FR) (12.7f))
Notes: Another top class looking novice hurdler to bid for glory, and I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen of him so far. His opening effort here in the UK after a fruitless French campaign bore fruit for Henderson as he slaughtered his opposition in the Gerry Fielden Hurdle at Newbury, a race in which the second Kilcooley bolted up next time out, and the third Violet Dancer won the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury a week ago. He then readily accounted for Killultagh Vic at Ascot and his final effort came in the Tolworth at Sandown where he put daylight between himself and his rivals running out a facile 14 length winner. The second Jollys Cracked It has since ran a 14L fifth in the Betfair Hurdle off an opening mark of 140 for which he was fancied for. L’Ami Serge has looked top notch from what we’ve seen so far, and in actual fact Timeform have him rated 1lb ahead of Douvan on 157p.
King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f) — Darabaka (IRE) (Doyoun (10.3f))
Notes: A horse that was seen as the chief hope of Team Mullins for last season’s Champion Bumper, running a gallant race in second behind an impressive winner. He followed up by winning the Punchestown equivalent in style the following month and made a successful start to his hurdling career at Fairyhouse on his seasonal return. He was seen as one of their main hopes for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle prior to being beaten at Navan by No More Heroes, but lost nothing in defeat to what is a serious horse with juice in the ground. It is still unclear where he goes this season but it wouldn’t be beyond the wildest realms for Mullins to throw him into this, with Nichols Canyon likely to head for the Neptune after looking so impressive in the Deloitte earlier this month.
Rocamadour (9.8f) — Life Line (Exit To Nowhere (USA) (10.1f))
Notes: A real old-fashioned chasing type who has plenty of size about him, and as such hasn’t particularly impressed with the fluency of his hurdling. He was only just edged out by the more experienced Greatwood Hurdle winner Garde La Victoire, albeit in receipt of 2lbs from that rival but the manner in which he travelled through the race caught the eye – even if his finishing effort was less than anticipated against a gutsy rival. Whilst he is likely to make the transition to a high-class novice chaser next season, I’m worried he may not be ready mentally for this battle in three weeks’ time and at the prices is another I’m happy to side against.
Street Cry (IRE) (9.6f) — Princess Nada (Barathea (IRE) (9.7f))
Notes: Comes with a rather sizeable reputation from what I’ve read on Twitter and in the racing press over the last couple of weeks, but his form to date leaves the need for plenty of improvement to trouble the judge here. He was a decent horse on the flat (rated 102 in his pomp) and after an initial disappointment over hurdles he beat a well-regarded sort in Cardinal Walter last time out, albeit in receipt of 6lbs from that rival. It would take a giant leap of faith to think this horse has a near 20lbs of improvement in him between that run a week or so ago and his next outing in this race, and for that reason I’m out.
Beneficial (14.2f) — Montel Girl (IRE) (Montelimar (USA) (11.5f))
Notes: Has improved leaps and bounds since being switched to Shay Barry from Philip Fenton, with a novice handicap victory over the Christmas period off a mark of 126 amongst the pick of his form. However it was his last run back down in trip that impressed me when running away with a Listed Hurdle at Punchestown. A RPR of 143 suggests he has plenty of improvement to find in the book, but he may not be finished just yet and his ability to handle quicker conditions will also work in his favour. A live outside chance.
Nichols Canyon would have been of interest in this contest were he to line up but his campaign suggests he’ll now be heading for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle on the second day of The Festival, Paddy Power’s prices seem to reflect that chain of thought also.
Tell Us More was widely tipped as the chief Mullins hope for the Neptune as the season got underway, but he had his bubble well and truly burst when beaten by stable-mate McKinley at Naas in January. It remains to be seen where he goes next, with plans still very much in the air.
With other targets on the horizon for the remainder of the Mullins camp there doesn’t leave an awful lot more to talk about from what remains and this looks a race that is going to be played out between the main protagonists.
In truth this race doesn’t have the excitement of competitiveness that the other novice hurdles have this year, but that is mostly in part down to the clear dominance shown by both Douvan and L’Ami Serge in their respective races thus far.
Both horses rated 2lb and 1lb respectively below Vautour’s winning mark for this race last year according to Timeform figures, so both clearly warrant their places at the head of the market.
Bentelimar is one who looks sure to outrun his current odds of 33/1, and was a nice spot by Matt Toombs of Oddschecker advising him at 50s a week ago. He’s improving and won’t mind quicker conditions and could well into a place to reward the faith of his backers.
My approach this year is going to be very much about getting the best value possible, and although it goes against the various trends I’ve got to throw a dart at SHANESHILL who if hadn’t tasted defeat at Navan last time against a serious horse on softer ground, then he would be half the price he is currently available at (and would also more likely to go for the Neptune too).
His bumper form around here reads very well and the return to better ground should also be a positive given his form and pedigree, and when you compare his dosage profiles to the last 10 winners of the race he wouldn’t be too far out at all.