There is something special about the Supreme Novices Hurdle. As the first race of the Cheltenham Festival, excitement levels reach heights that not many other sports can produce.
When the tapes are lifted, releasing the runners into battle, the Cheltenham roar engulfs Prestbury Park and is rumoured to be so loud it can be heard all the way in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania.
What happened in 2013?
Champagne Fever landed the spoils in what was an outstanding race that from a form point of view is very strong.
Ruby Walsh was at his supreme best to guide Willie Mullins’ gutsy charge, who won the Champion Bumper the previous year, home in front of the 15/8 favourite My Tent Or Yours. It was a classic battle up the home straight between Walsh and his great rival AP McCoy.
Having resumed winning ways in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown a month earlier, the winner was the buzz horse in the market and landed quite a gamble for all concerned that followed the move from 9/1 into a starting price of 11/1.
He looked vulnerable turning for home, with My Tent Or Yours travelling imperious well, but a couple of smacks from Walsh kept the gutsy winner up to his work and he saw off his rival’s challenge.
Jezki was two and a quarter lengths back in third, who in turn pulled 15 lengths clear of Un Atout in fourth, highlighting the strength of the first three. All of them will be featuring at the Festival for many years to come.
2014 Major Players
This is always a hard race to see into the future with as we’re dealing with young horses that have yet to fully develop and even jump a hurdle in public.
Expect the usual protagonists like Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls and owner JP McManus to pull some talent of the hat but at this time of writing, Willie Mullins has the strongest hand.
Briar Hill ran out a seven length winner of the Champion Bumper last season – a race that hasn’t always run as a strong trial for the Supreme but is starting to turn.
Dual Grade One winning hurdler Dunguib, Supreme Novices´ Hurdle runner-up and Grade One winning chaser Cue Card and Champagne Fever have all used the Champion Bumper as a springboard to greater things, therefore Briar Hill must be kept a close eye on.
Regal Encore followed Briar Hill home and has McManus in his corner whilst the likes of West Wizard, trained by Henderson, Faugheen and Golantilla all have shown good form in bumpers and could progress into top hurdling contenders.
Betting advice: strong race trends
Wrapping up novices in cotton wool doesn’t do them any good for this race as Champagne Fever became the 18th winner in the last 19 years to have a run previous 68 days leading up to Cheltenham.
Cue Card, Steps To Freedom and Jezki all are examples of horses trading at short prices to get beat in a Supreme without a recent run under their belt.
It’s best to keep an eye on the Betfair Don’t Settle For Less Novice Hurdle at Newbury in February along with Cheltenham’s novice hurdle at their December meeting. In Ireland, the Bar One Racing Royal Bond Hurdle and Deloitte Novices Hurdle are worth watching for clues; the latter was won by Champagne Fever last season.
Not the strongest of races to have an early ante-post punt on, but we’ll be taking a chance with classy Flat performer First Mohican to make up into a nice hurdler this season and he can be backed at 20/1 with Bet365.