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Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1)
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the opening race of Cheltenham Festival 2017 and is held on Tuesday 14th March 2017. Started by the Cheltenham roar, it takes place over two miles on the Old Course with eight hurdles.
Willie Mullins has won this race a record five times and our Supreme Novices’ Hurdle tip Bunk Off Early looks like the perfect fit to continue the fine record.
A winner on the flat, his career really started to take flight when he joined Willie Mullins, winning on hurdling debut at Leopardstown on Boxing Day with the minimum of fuss. He travelled strongly throughout and despite being headed at one stage, he went on again and never looked in any real danger throughout. That effort obviously boded well for the future and he backed up that promise when a close second in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown in Februrary, with there being no disgrace in being outstayed by Bacardys on that occasion who looks likely to go to the Neptune.
He remains with huge amounts of potential and should take well to Cheltenham, as a strong galloping track will play to his strengths. Performing well on all types of ground in the past, he looks to be the all round package this year and should throw down a huge challenge to his stable mate Melon, who has more to prove at present. If jumping and travelling just as well as he did in that previous run, he looks to have a massive chance for the aptly named Supreme Horse Racing Club.
The betting trends for the Supreme Novices hurdle are as follows:
- All of the previous 10 winners had at least 2 hurdle runs, with 8 of them having at least 4
- 9 out of the last 10 winners won their last start before the Supreme Novices (exception: Menorah finished 2nd)
- 9 of last 10 winners were aged either 5 or 6
- 9 of the last 10 winners had competed in a Graded contest previously
- 9 of the last 10 winners were not the SP favourite.
- 8 of the last 10 winners had at least 4 combined wins and places
- 8 of the last 10 winners had run in a National Hunt flat race, with 2 others running in French hurdle races
- Irish trained horses have a great record in the race in recent years, having won 11 of the last 17 runnings
- Only 5 of the last 10 winners had previous Cheltenham experience.
The Irish contingent now have the slight edge in the opening race, with 11 wins in the last 17 mainly thanks to Willie Mullins. There was a 12 year break following his 1995 success with 25/1 shot Tourist Attraction when Ebaziyan won in 2007. However, Mullins has won it in the last three years with Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan. Ruby Walsh rode all of the recent three winners, as well as both of Paul Nicholls’s successes (2006 and 2011) giving him an impressive 50% strike rate in the last ten years.
Trends Analysis: The age trend is not all that surprising, given most promising novices come here as five or six-year-olds. Nor is the fact that most winners won last time out. Big price winners can be expected in races full of unexposed types, especially over two miles where one jumping mistake can ruin a favourite’s race. This explains both the poor strike rate for favourites and the fact that experience is often key, with the majority of winners having had at least four starts as well as NHF or French hurdles experience.
The Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle kicks off the Cheltenham Festival and four days of brilliant, top class jumps racing. Our preview and tip for the Festival opener can be found below!
A winner on the flat, Bunk Off Early‘s career really took flight when joining Willie Mullins, winning on debut at Leopardstown comfortably and confirming himself as a smart prospect for the future. Pitched straight into Grade 1 company immediately afterwards, he was a very close second in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at the same venue when there was no disgrace in being outstayed by Bacardys, who looks set to go to the Neptune in March. He remains with huge amounts of potential for the trainer who has won this race a record five times and he should be well suited by the test that Cheltenham provides. Mullins’ has so many exciting young horses on his books and this looks like another who is destined for brilliant things.
Coming over to Ireland with quite the reputation, Melon didn’t disappoint on hurdling debut when a comfortable winner at Leopardstown in January. Making minimal mistakes and travelling well throughout, he drew clear with ease before the final fence and despite a mistake at the last, he scored by ten lengths. He wasn’t hard pressed to do so and looked a smart horse in the making, though the second did no favours to the form when well beaten on his next start. Nevertheless, he still showed a lot of promise on that run and as a Willie Mullins horse, he should improve markedly on his second run. It is unsurprising to see him so well touted in the market as he has the potential to be anything, and does need to be respected.
All but confirmed for the race, Ballyandy will need to improve again if he’s to be winning a supreme against this calibre of competition. Unable to live with Moon Racer who was on top at the finish on his hurdling debut at Perth in September, he was again put in his place by that rival when beaten by a bigger margin at Cheltenham in a Grade 2 in November. He once again came up short in Grade 2 company when beaten in the Winter Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown by Messire Des Obeaux, from whom he was receiving 7lb weight from. Granted, on his latest run he won the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February, but he will need to step up again back out of handicap company. He does remain with potential and clearly does suit Cheltenham, but others can have much more compelling cases made for them and he has had his chances at this sort of level to take victory.
Unbeaten over hurdles so far for Nicky Henderson, River Wylde isn’t one to rule out at bigger prices. Running on powerfully on hurdling debut to win at Ludlow by a growing seven lengths, he had to do things the hard way when winning over the same C&D a month later. That run somewhat dented his claims after making hard work of the competition, but his latest start at Kempton proved that he had the quality to be winning a race of this nature. Jumping well in the main and travelling equally as well, he stayed on the best to skip past Elgin, Peter The Mayo Man and Capitaine to land the Grade 2 Dovecote Novies’ Hurdle at Kempton in February. A strong traveller who jumps brilliantly, he posses all the qualities needed to win a Supreme and a track like Cheltenham should suit his racing style. He does have something to find with those at the top of the market, but he isn’t one to rule out for each way purposes and needs to be respected as such.
Along with our Supreme Novices Hurdle preview and tip, we have all our other Cheltenham Festival tips and in-depth previews for the biggest National Hunt meeting online to view now.
Menorah lined up to take the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle back in 2010. A representative of Phillip Hobbs, the five-year-old was positioned in mid-field in the early stages of the strongly run race.
He took the inside throughout, managing to hold his standing thanks to a clean round of jumping. The 12/1 shot took the second last with the leader Dan Breen and had to avoid his rival as he jinked in front. He kept on alone down the run in, managing to see off the odds-on favourite Dunguib in third and had the line come to him before Get Me Out Of Here, who improved strongly, could steal the win. The official winning distance was a mere head.
Al Ferof succeeded Menorah in 2011. Paul Nicholls’s six-year-old was held up towards the rear of the field by Ruby Walsh. Held up and two wide for most of the race, Al Ferof was first asked to pick off runners just prior to the Dog Leg Turn, one of a handful of chances pursuing long time leaders Dunraven Storm and Magen’s star.
These two fell away over the third last to allow Sprinter Sacre, Spirit Son and Rathlin to fight it out at the head of affairs. Walsh was patient on Al Ferof, despite seeing the favourite Cue Card improve to take the penultimate hurdle in front. Unleashed, the grey quickened up under the urgings of Walsh and closed up the gap on the leading trio. He found even more coming over the last and into the straight, negotiating his way past his tiring rivals to open up a two length gap on Spirit Son in second.
Cinders And Ashes scooped the Supreme in the subsequent year for Donald McCain; the horse was under instruction from Jason Maguire in the saddle.
The five-year-old winner sat at the front of the main body of the field, these horses being led by a quartet of front-runners in the early stages. The nose-banded Cinders And Ashes back-pedalled slightly prior to jumping poorly over the fourth hurdle, but was still well in touch setting off down the hill.
McCain’s mount turned for home in third, leaving the rail to take up a position between the leader Montbazon and the improving Vulcanite. His white blaze emerged at the head of proceedings just before the final hurdle, which he smacked but managed to recover from to put a gap of just over a length between himself and the three contesting second place.
Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh and owners the Ricci family earned back-to-back triumphs in this race in 2013 and 2014, Champagne Fever being their 2013 success story.
The grey set a strong pace at the front of the pack early doors, the only other horse wanting to know being another of Mullins’s chances Un Atout. Walsh settled things down prior to the third and the pack remained bunched up until the horse was asked to turn the screw again following the third from home, Champagne Fever failing to take this obstacle in his stride.
Walsh, in the Ricci family colours, was working hard on Champagne Fever in comparison to A P McCoy on the favourite My Tent Or Yours who moved upsides him in the straight. The pair took the last in unison and the favourite was found wanting as Champagne Fever pressed on to open up a half-a-length gap.
Vautour completed the successive victories for the trio in 2014 and the five-year-old was ridden to dispute the lead early on. Tongue out and taking a keen hold, Vautour was the clear half-a-length leader going over the second and sustained this margin until diving at the third from home and allowing his pursuers to close up.
Despite this error, The Liquidator was the only horse who was ever capable of going eye-to-eye with Vautour, who extended his lead rounding the final turn. Walsh looked ecstatic in the saddle as his charge ran out the six length winner over Josses Hill in second.
2015’s renewal saw Willie Mullins’s Douvan being sent off 2/1 favourite after victory at the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle. L’Ami Serge and Jollyallan were widely seen as the main dangers, with the former being an easy winner of the Tolworth Hurdle for Nicky Henderson. However, nothing could come close to Douvan as he landed the Willie Mullins hat-trick.
He made smooth progress from mid-division, led before the last hurdle and stayed on strongly up the hill with the Willie Mullins second string Shaneshill chasing him home and Sizing John back in third rounding out an Irish 1-2-3 for Henry De Bromhead.
Nicky Henderson stopped the rot as far as Irish dominance is concerned in the 2016 renewal as the mighty impressive Altior powered to victory in the hands of Nico De Boinville. In hindsight, the SP of 4/1 was an unbelievable price, but this was made possible due to the hype surrounding Min, the Willie Mullins trained horse owned by Rich Ricci. Altior tanked his way through the race and, turning for home, took up the running and powered up the hill. Min was running on into second, but ultimately was no match for the winner. They could meet in the 2017 Arkle as both take their chance over the bigger obstacles, a fascinating duel.
There are 14 confirmed Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runners, which are all listed below –
- BEYOND CONCEIT
- BUNK OFF EARLY
- CAPITAL FORCE
- CILAOS EMERY
- CRACK MOME
- HIGH BRIDGE
- MAGNA CARTOR
- RIVER WYLDE