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Supreme Novices' Hurdle preview

There's nothing like the roar of the tape going up for the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival. There's also nothing like the battle between bookies to take your bets on that first race - the theory being that once you start betting with a firm, you are more likely to stick with them for the next race, and the next race....

The Supreme Novices' Hurdle always comes with huge expectation and the best of the novice hurdlers rarely let us down. Tasked with the preview is Ghislain Hofman, @gghofman, and you can read more of his work on his corner of SBBColumns.

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Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle

The Supreme Novices' Hurdle is one of my favourites and not just because it opens the week but that it offers a very interesting betting race and has been good to me in the past when the Irish have won I have usually been on the right one the English winners have not been so easy for me to spot. Horses with at least three hurdle runs have fared best in this mostly due to this been so hotly contested that holding back runs hasn’t paid off.

The Irish-trained angle isn’t as strong as some think, for three years the Brits took home the prize after three years of the Irish. The Irish tended to always have more mature novice hurdlers for range of reasons but that gap is closed now.

Winning streaks have proved key coming into the supreme. The Horses who have been beaten have usually not overturned form in this and a recent run in past 6-7 weeks has also been a good one for runners. Flat horses do not take to this race, National Hunt-bred horses fared much better. It has been nine years without a favourite so it’s a very open race with the 18 runners declared.

For more on key trends check SBBColumns trends section.

Vautour looks like he will go off favourite and comes from same connections as last years winner. Ruby Walsh will likely pick this as his ride. However note Mullins won this in 2007 without Ruby so it is not always the number one Mullins candidate, mainly due to the huge amount of talent in his stable. Vautour has had the four runs all over hurdles. He dealt well with a huge field on Irish racecourse debut when winning at Navan, he was close to been overturned as 1/4 favourite the next run at Punchestown when Western Boy ran him very close. Vautour has a strong last run on paper when lowering the flag of the Tullow Tank at Leopardstown. Tullow Tank did not look quiet as impressive but Vautour did stay on well something he will very much need for the testing finish at Cheltenham. Leopardstown is a very flat course and galloping on, can be made to be easier than at the home of racing.

Irving is the likely challenger to favouritism in the market from the Nicholls yard with Scholfield confirmed to take the ride. Like Vautour he also was a French import having run twice in France before bought to race in England. He has won all four of his runs over hurdles, the most impressive of which was at Ascot a six-length win over Volnay De Thaix, the third that day Splash of Ginge won a very nice race at Newbury since. The last run just two weeks ago doesn’t add much more to the form but the tracks raced have been flat and right handed.

Wicklow Brave is another Mullins runner but for very different connections ones with a plan to make a run on Cheltenham with several entries for their other horses here this week. Wicklow Brave has the signs of a continuous improver. Five bumper runs have seen him develop with the last of those bumpers wins been a strong two lengths win over Western Boy a horse who pushed Vautour very close.

The hope for punters would be for Townsend to get the ride ahead of Mullins who has been on the end of some fair criticism this year for his tactics at times. Wicklow Brave has been nothing but impressive with both his runs over hurdles and the cork run should set him up well for the hill as will his Galway bumper win. The last win over the two Gigginstown runners worked out well as Real Steel the third ran a cracker to win well in Grade 2 over a stable mate of Wicklow Brave. The drying ground should be a help as he said to like it on quicker side of things.

Josses Hill looks to be the main charge for Henderson but will have Tinkler on board. Royal Boy just beat Josses Hill last time at Kempton he will race the Neptune so watch him if Josses Hill confirms the form. Josses Hill does have just four runs just two of which are over Hurdles. His opening Hurdle assignment was a simple task in a Newbury maiden which he did without fuss and that’s a track I like horses to race on before a festival. But with the form on offer there is a bit we have to guess with in terms of progression and ability.

Fantasy King comes from a lesser known yard (a recent enough change) he hasn’t run over hurdles in nearly five months and had a recent spin on the flat instead. Looks outclassed. Garde la Victoire is Hobbs chance for this. This French-bred horse comes off a run back in January. He was a fourth in the Kempton race that had Josses Hill second and on that has 15 lengths to make up. He does have a good Cheltenham second to his name. That race hasn’t worked out in a way that suggests this step up is in his ability.

Germany Calling last run was a distance fifth to Irving at Kempton in February, might be better than that run if jumping a bit better at business end but lot to find here. Gilgamboa comes in off three wins from four runs over hurdles. This will be the best ground he will have run on but in Galway he took to the hill and even stayed on heavy ground over longer trip too. He was quiet impressive in victory at Leopardstown last time. And now McCoy has jumped on board he is sure to attract some support and with good depth in this field he should get the strong pace he will need.

Sgt Reckless as a Channon horse has had as many spins on the flat as over hurdles. It will not have been the best race build up to race a flat race at Kempton in January. Twice he has been behind Amore Alato in his races both time third. His win at Kempton in between doesn’t exactly inspire with the third taking a lowly handicap Class 4 after failing in Class 3. Amore Alato is held five lengths by Irving from a Kempton run, and was a third at this track to Lac Fontana.

Sky Khan is an unusual one coming off a run back in January at Musselburgh when well held he has had three spins on the all-weather. Interesting second at Galway Festival to Diplomat but would be strange one if he had enough for this step up in class. Splash of Ginge is interesting he was six lengths back on Irving at Ascot before Christmas. His jumping was awful that day and could been much closer given circumstances. Look at his latest run and their might be something a strong win at Newbury staying on well to beat Dell’Arca at 33/1.

The Liquidator saddled by Pipe will be their hope to break a long festival duck for the yard. His last run looks a poor one behind two of the runners mentioned above. But then his run before looks a different horse, hammering a small field at this track and Lac Fontana was well back on that day. But the Catterick run before that has little to show us in a race he was fully expected to win. All in all, The Liquidator has shown a liking to this course and was a fourth in the Bumper last year. That Bumper has seen winner Briars Hill go three from three since, the second didn’t step up as much as expected but still did some winning at a lower level.

Three Kingdoms comes without a run this year. Last run just after Christmas was a close battle heading Vibrato Valtat on the line getting up in the final stride and he probably didn’t deserve any more than that. The form of the Leicester win doesn’t work out from the few runs of the top four, and the fifth had best of a second in a lowly hurdle race. His third at Cheltenham in November is likely the more interesting piece of form. That form works out bit better with the second winning a decent race at Sandown next time out but he held by 31 lengths by Splash of Ginge at Newbury. The 17th in last year's Fred Winter is also off-putting.

Un Ace had the interesting jockey booking of Maguire for the Supreme until his mishap . His best two runs have been shock outsider wins in bumpers last season. That was topped off with a poor run in the Aintree Bumper. Just one run since is worrying but it was a win but in lowly company. The odds on favourite a second in that race was beating horses before that very much at the Class 4-5 level.

Valseur Lido another French breed in the field and a Gigginstown horse with the Mullins yard. So Cooper the new jockey for connections this year actually takes the ride for the first time. He just about won on his debut in France before being brought over to win on debut in soft heavy conditions at Cork a good sign to suit Cheltenham. That Cork win works out quite nicely, the third a Class 1 winner next time, the fourth consistent since breaking his maiden. Plenty in that field have gone on to win since. His Navan win was a glorified gallop as he went off 1/12 so not much can be taken from it but to say he was in good heart but a run in 2014 hasn’t happened which is a pity, but don’t discount him simply as the third string Mullins horse as he could well be the best of the lot.

Vaniteux is Henderson best hope for the race and has Geraghty on as a result. He has had just three starts but they have all been over hurdles the last of which was over an extended trip at Doncaster, he was well held by Amore Alato an eight-length loser in that race with Sgt Reckless just in front also, but the he did beat Vibrato Valtat the race before so if you like Three Kingdoms, then Vaniteux might be another one to look at. His win last time doesn’t exactly scream supreme winner.

Western Boy comes off a really close run to Vautour at Punchestown it was under a length and it is hard to understand the price difference although the race does say Vautour would have to run below par for the form to be over turned. He was also second to Wicklow Brave in a bumper back in October but he again didn’t seem to trouble Wicklow Brave on that day. This is just his third hurdle start, but while a place is possible its difficult to see beating either Mullins horse he has faced before.

Wilde Blue Yonder represents King, he has won this twice before with some nice types. He is the only horse in the field coming off a fall last time out not once but twice and that makes him very hard to fancy, hurdling can be made look easy but at Cheltenham in a decent-sized field such as in this race jumping errors don’t go unpunished. I had him backed at Ascot last time a race he should have won falling two out. His maiden hurdle win was a close call with little to go on, but his bumper win at Uttoxter has worked out, but he has a lot to overcome to win this.

Suggested Bets:
Both Irving and Vautour will be popular with big name punters as the top English raider faces the Irish favourite. Irving might be best at Aintree last in the season so at the price I can’t have him. Vautour is the Mullins number one but Western Boy did push him a bit and while Western Boy isn’t my main choice I am feeling Wicklow Brave might closely match him.

1st Wicklow Brave 15/2
2nd Gilgamboa 12/1 (Pricewise tip apparently)
3rd The Liquidator 22/1
4th Valseur Lido 18/1

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