The Festival gets underway with the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. The roar from the crowd as the tapes fly back for the first race of the week is something to behold! It's time to pass the reins over to my first guest writer of the week, Adam Ward (@AdamHWard) with his preview of the race.
Cheltenham Festival preview: Day 1- Supreme Novices Hurdle
The Supreme Novices’ normally has a so-called ‘good thing’ who is usually the previous year’s Bumper winner, but for the last three years the hot-favourite: Cousin Vinny, Dunguib & Cue Card, have been turned over. With last year’s bumper winner Cheltenian injured and out of the picture, it has left this year’s renewal wide-open.
Cinders and Ashes: Ran well for a long way in the festival bumper last year and is reported the apple of his trainers eye. Jockey Jason Maguire has also claimed he would not trade him for anything in the race. He’s won some mediocre events on heavy ground easily, though it is his second to Broadback Bob on good ground at Ascot that makes him stand out, after losing his place badly he made up a lot of ground to get into contention and the big field of the Supreme Novices will suit him, though he could get caught for speed coming up the hill.
Colour Squadron: Unlucky not to have three straight wins to his name after falling when seemingly cruising last time at Newbury and throwing away the Tolworth hurdle at Sandown, when hanging, the time before that. Although seemingly not as stylish as some of his rivals, he tries hard and will be battling at the finish. He is definitely one of the more likelier types at a bigger price.
Darlan: Would definitely have given Zarkander a race at Newbury, if not falling last time out and that one is now well fancied for the Champion Hurdle. Although winning the majority of his races on the bridle, the time he was asked the question, was over course and distance in December, when he battled all the way to the line to get up by a nose. With course form, a good cruising speed and battling qualities. He is a leading contender.
Distant Memories: A decent performer on the flat for Tom Tate, where the majority of his wins came with ease in the ground, (has won on good ground). Travelled well when winning on his debut at Limerick, albeit with a few jumping errors and it was too early to tell how close he would have got to Midnight Game when blundering badly two out at Naas last time. The ability is there, but the expected fast-pace will surely catch his jumping out.
Galileo’s Choice: Smart flat performer with pedigree to match. Although his last performance was visually impressive, the form of his races don’t seem all that strong. Although he could improve for the better ground, Cheltenham will be a much stiffer test and trainer Dermot Weld has only ever had one Cheltenham Festival winner, which was way back in 1990.
Midnight Game: After taking a few runs to get going, he has looked promising with two decent wins at both Leopardstown and Naas, but it’s questionable what he beat in either of those races. From the leading stable in Ireland, he cannot be completely ruled out and his trainer Willie Mullins believes he will improve for the better ground at Cheltenham, though he may find one or two of these too good.
Montbazon: Closely matched with Colour Squadron and was gifted the race when that one fell at Newbury last time. His trainer reports that he is in unbelievable form and goes to the festival in better form than any of his string, He has form over course and distance, but will need to have improved as much as his trainer says he had to get involved at the business end.
Prospect Wells: Only beaten 3/4 of a length by Steps to Freedom over course and distance in November and followed up by winning comfortably at Newbury. He did not disgrace himself when stepping into handicap company at Ascot in December, when only beaten a length and a half. It was reported he couldn’t breathe when tailing off in the Tolworth and he has since had a wind-op. With his breathing now corrected, he could improve a fair amount, like so many of Paul Nicholls’ string, who have had corrective surgery. He could be worth persevering with and it would not be a complete surprise for him to turn the form around with Steps to Freedom.
Steps To Freedom: Shot to the head of the market after beating Prospect Wells at Cheltenham in November and has remained prominent in the betting every since. He has been put away since then, as he prefers better ground. He showed a good turn of foot that day, though the form has taken a few knocks since the third Ericht has been beaten on numerous occasions. His trainer knows how to ready one and it is hard to knock him on what he has done so far. He has also beaten a few of these in bumpers last year, definitely in the mix and Ireland’s leading contender.
Tetlami: Has looked a new horse since coming back from injury this season, and showed a smart turn of foot on his last start in jumpers’ bumper at Kempton. The form of his races has a solid look to it and there could be more improvement to come from him. He has slipped some-what slightly under the radar in the betting as trainer Nicky Henderson also has leading hope Darlan. Barry Geraghty will be in the drivers seat and people would be foolish to label him a second-string.
Verdict: A very open Supreme Novices’ where claims can be made for several. Although Steps to Freedom seems to have his ideal conditions, Prospect Wells’ wind operation could make the difference to reverse the form. The standout is DARLAN, who for not falling last time, could still have an unbeaten record and might have had a crack at the Champion Hurdle. Course form will be a big help, which is why stable-mate Tetlami (also a course winner) could chase him home. If Darlan was not in the race, he would probably be half the price and looks each-way value. The better ground looks another plus for him.
3rd Prospect Wells
Follow Adam on Twitter @adamhward
If you're looking for a detailed list of promo offers, check out this page from Bet72