Finally, all the anticipation which has kept many of us warm over the winter months subsides, signalling the start of the Cheltenham Festival in the shape of the Supreme Novices Hurdle, which over the years has been renowned for its Cheltenham “roar” as the tapes go up.
Often this is the beginning of a week-long battle between punters and bookmakers and in recent seasons the punters have certainly held the upper-hand.
Jamie Taylor takes you through the 2017 renewal of the race, and gives you his thoughts on the contest.
One year ago, we witnessed Altior put in an imperious display to batter all opposition including the highly-touted Min, who was no match for the Nicky Henderson trained gelding. Altior has since gone on to be even better over fences, and will line up a very short price (and unbeaten) favourite for the Arkle Chase during Festival week.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2017 Contenders
Kayf Tara x Megalex (Karinga Bay)
Notes: Winner of the 2016 Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival, he has been somewhat of a slow burner over hurdles this campaign but one imagines it was with a view to landing that lucrative Betfair Hurdle prize at Newbury, which he did in no uncertain terms. Travelling powerfully into the heat of the contest, he was presented to win his race by Sam Twiston-Davies and did what was needed to see off Movewiththetimes who was arguably just as well-handicapped as he. The rating for that win was most impressive, with an RPR rating of 151 putting him bang there in the shake-up and based on what I’ve seen of late you’d have to imagine he’ll go very close to winning the Supreme if holding his form.
Presenting x Daring Venture (Darazari)
Notes: A winner of a sole bumper outing before making light work of opposition at Fontwell on his hurdling bow, he ran a race full of promise against more experienced rivals when suffering interference at a vital stage at Cheltenham on his second hurdling outing. A routine win followed at Wincanton before he really announced himself with a brilliant second to Ballyandy in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury a couple of weeks ago. He travelled through the race strongly displaying an impressive engine but was ultimately outbattled by a more experienced and hardened rival on the day. Movewiththetimes looked to be on level terms going towards the last but he stepped at his hurdle costing him around half-a-length, a margin which he couldn’t gather back on the run-in but went out admirably in defeat.
Vinnie Roe x Missy O’Brien (Supreme Leader)
Notes: Still very much lightly raced and has improved leaps and bounds between runs in his two hurdle starts to date. Prior to that he was a facile winner of a bumper on his debut for Harry Fry, after being acquired from the point-to-point field on advice of Niall Madden when winning at Ballyraget for Mags Mullins last March. I remember watching his race at Haydock and though he was quite sketchy over his hurdles in the early stages, but once warmed up he jumped brilliantly to close out a very impressive nine-length win. With this being only his second start over hurdles and already running to an RPR of 152 you cannot help but be impressed, the one slight negative I have however is that I am slightly concerned over the fact Team Fry weren’t necessarily looking towards the Cheltenham Festival as part of their plans for him. Now I’m sure things have most likely changed a month on as we get closer to it, but would thoroughly recommend taking out a NRNB concession as at this stage he looks more likely to line up in the Neptune if he is to run at The Festival.
Oscar x Trinity Alley (Taipan)
Notes: Like Neon Wolf before him, his most likely target looks like being the Neptune and to be honest I think that is the more logical target for this Grade 1 winning novice. Purchased for a princely sum of £250,000 in November 2016, Finian’s Oscar has wasted no time asserting himself towards the top of the Novice rankings with a string of impressive successes under Colin Tizzard this term. His most recent performance when winning a listed novices’ event at Exeter whilst fairly workmanlike in principle it is clear on further investigation he was simply idling in-front, before drawing on again on the run-in. I think the quicker track of the Supreme Novices’ will most likely be against him but that doesn’t mean to say he couldn’t win a Supreme Novices’. It will be of interest to see if Messrs Tizzard and Fry look to avoid each other in the Neptune by switching back to a seemingly easier Supreme Novices’ than has been known in previous years.
Saffron Walden x Angel’s Folly (Wesaam)
Notes: No spring chicken at the age of 8 but hasn’t had much racing considering his age, some of which can be attributed to injury which has kept him back a season longer than ideally connections would have liked. Had been touted as a potential runner for the Champion Hurdle a couple of months ago, but surely those plans have now been shelved with this a much more attainable prize. That said despite having the beating of Ballyandy in his two races to date this term, I do feel he is very short at the top end of the market, and I am not the greatest fan of David Pipe’s training abilities so will be looking to take him on with Tom Scudamore likely to ride.
Spanish Moon x Peche Mome (April Night)
Notes: I don’t think we’ve seen the very best of this Willie Mullins trained gelding as yet, and time will tell he bumped into a very smart sort in Any Second Now when suffering defeat at Punchestown. He landed on all-fours when jumping the last, costing him momentum in the finish to repel the Ted Walsh trained rival, however I doubt he would have beaten him even with a clean execution. On reviewing the race, I felt that Crack Mome and Run For Dave took each other on plenty early enough on the run for home, thus softening themselves up for the late closer in Any Second Now. Better ground and a stronger pace at the Cheltenham Festival will certainly help Crack Mome who certainly isn’t a forgone conclusion at double-figure odds, a dark horse and one worth keeping on side.
BUNK OFF EARLY
Zebedee x Ctesiphon (Arch)
Notes: Looking like being the Willie Mullins first string in this race by proxy after a string of defeats and injuries to his string campaigned towards this race. He made a pleasing debut over hurdles in December before finishing runner-up in the Deloitte at Leopardstown early on this month. He was outstayed by the stouter bred stable-mate in Bacardys but the way he travelled through the race caught the eye. He is clearly high-class and isn’t far behind the main protagonists off just two runs so far and has to be respected.
Medicean x Night Teeny (Platini)
Notes: If you are the type that listens to hype then the whispers from Closutton has been that this horse is the second coming for the last couple of months, however I’m not so sure he is. He won easily enough on debut at Leopardstown but has beaten a bunch of farmyard pets in all honesty, will need to improve, is drifting on a well-known exchange and may not even end up making The Festival but obviously from the Mullins camp so you’ve got to respect him.
DEFI DU SEUIL
Voix Du Nord x Quarvine Du Seuil (Lavirco)
Notes: A most impressive juvenile hurdler for Philip Hobbs this season, the gelded son of Voix Du Nord has made light work of his own age group, picking up wins in the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow, and a Grade 2 at Cheltenham along the way. There are rumours he could look to become the first four-year-old to win the race since Hors La Loi III in 1999, and based on ratings and the age allowance he would receive he would be very much a big player were he to head down this route.
Elgin has tried to give away 3lb to both Neon Wolf and River Wylde in his last two starts and despite running admirably in defeat I would be very surprised if he was good enough to win this.
River Wylde asserted late on to score in the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton, beating off the gallant Elgin on the run-in, but from what I’ve seen of him so far he’ll need to improve plenty to throw down with the principles here.
Let’s Dance wasn’t good enough in the Triumph Hurdle last season and holds an entry in the Mares race, which is surely the more appealing target? That said there has been a little support on the Betfair exchange for her recently so it wouldn’t be a shock if she were to run.
Airlie Beach has put together a string of impressive performances for connections, including the Grade 1 Royal Bond and if she were to pitch up here she would be of interest but it doesn’t look like she is going to with other targets preferred.
Charli Parcs looked really good on debut at Kempton but since suffered a fall when making hard work of his opposition at that same venue at the weekend, causing Barry Geraghty to miss The Festival through injury – he looks to head to the Triumph Hurdle if he runs anywhere.
High Bridge was sixth in the Champion Bumper last year and has won a few soft novice hurdles including one up north so far on his hurdling campaign. His form looks someway below what is required for winning this and won’t be one I’ll be getting excited about.
Saturnas went off favourite for the Deloitte after winning the Grade 1 Future Champions Novices’ at Leopardstown in December but was virtually pulled-up when putting in a disappointing display. He made a mistake at the third last which seemed to knock the wheels off his effort and it would be long odds he’ll actually line up now after that effort.
Beyond Conceit has won two egg-and-spoon races so far over hurdles and would need to improve over a stone to have a say in this, which I don’t suspect he has the capability of doing.
A race which in some ways boils down to where Neon Wolf and Finian’s Oscar run at the Cheltenham Festival, plans for both seemingly the Neptune at the current stage although it had been muted that Neon Wolf may skip the Festival altogether after his win at Haydock.
The current favourite is Moon Racer trained by David Pipe, and to be honest I’d be happy to take him on. He would be the oldest winner of the race since Like-A-Butterfly in 2002 and hasn’t stood much racing in his career to date. I am also not the greatest fan of David Pipe’s training abilities and would much rather be on something of his in the handicaps which will have around a stone in hand, which is basically how he wins Festival races these days.
Melon is all hype on what we’ve seen so far but could take that big leap forward and justify it at the Festival but I’m not prepared to dip my toe into the water at the current prices available.
Defi Du Seuil would be most interesting with the age allowance if he were re-routed towards this instead of the Triumph Hurdle, but McManus also has Movewiththetimes in this who based on his showing when second in the Betfair Hurdle is a very live runner for this prize.
Bunk Of Early will be suited by the drop back to the minimum and showed enough to suggest he is a capable performer at this level, and I’d suspect him to be the chief hope of the Mullins yard in this race but there isn’t any juice in his price now.
Crack Mome is somewhat one of the forgotten horses in this race and I think he is better than his last outing suggesting. A large field and perceived better ground will bring about more improvement and I think he is well worth a small bet at double-figure odds.
This race for me though boils down to the Betfair Hurdle form which I think is a very strong piece of form in the context of this year’s race. Ballyandy and MOVEWITHTHETIMES come out of that Newbury handicap with a great deal of credit with not much to separate the two at the finish. I did feel that Ballyandy was the superior on the day and looked more resolute in the finish than the Paul Nicholls runner, perhaps that is a bit harsh as he was closing again as the line loomed, and was giving away 1lb to Ballyandy but that was the impression I got from viewing the race and the replay.
His run at Cheltenham on just his second start over hurdles and third lifetime start was quite noteworthy. He was travelling every inch as well as anything in the race when badly impeded by Ballyandy when Sam Twiston-Davies moved across shortly after the turn in. He had to check back lose a couple of lengths, before Keep In Line carried him across to the other side of the track when jumping the last.
Given that he’s had to switch back inside and has only been beaten around a length by Ballyandy, and was giving that rival 4lb was quite an impressive effort. Ballyandy has clearly improved as evidenced when confirming that advantage when winning the Betfair Hurdle, but I’m willing to give Movewiththetimes off level weights at a track where his sire Presenting holds an excellent record a throw of the dice at a decent price.
If you want to take more of a risk there is 12-1 available without the NRNB concession, or you can take 10-1 with WilliamHill which is NRFB (Non-runner free bet) up to a maximum of £25 if he runs elsewhere at Cheltenham, or NRNB if he doesn’t run.