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Supreme Novices' Hurdle preview

The traditional Festival opener, the race the bookies are falling over themselves trying to give the best customer offer to hook you in for the entire week. So it's not just about finding the winner, it's about finding the best offer - provided you are in the UK or Ireland where you can take advantage of them - bit harder from Australia.

As part of the excitement of arriving early at Cheltenham, it's my turn to preview the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Tune in at 1330GMT to listen to the roar as the tapes go up on the first race.

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Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Grade 1 Hurdle, 2m 1/2 f
1330 GMT


For weeks this race has all been about the Willie Mullins-trained favourite Douvan. Does he provide the bulletproof start to the Festival for punters, or are there chinks in his armour? This is a race for young, rising hurdlers, so the form isn't completely exposed. Form versus potential, the eternal punters' conundrum...

In saddlecloth order:

Alvisio Ville
Probably the fourth pick from the Mullins stable, and second pick of the McManus-owned runners, based on jockey bookings. Two starts in Ireland since being purchased from France, winning a Maiden Hurdle at Leopardstown followed by a third in the Deloittes (G1 Nov) a month ago, beaten by two horses not deemed fast enough to run in the Supreme, when 11/10 fav. Unlikely to be any undisclosed excuses for that after a relentless month of Cheltenham previews. Jockey here for just the one ride today and hasn't ridden a winner at Cheltenham. Today's not the day - not good enough.

Bentelimar
Different formlines, coming through handicap and Listed hurdles in Ireland rather than the Graded races. Doesn't mind the firmer tracks (winter form often on very soft tracks, Festival races can be the first time a horse has seen better footing all season), but think his best option might be sneaking into placepot contention.

Douvan
Purchased from France after two runs and has comfortably beaten small fields in his two Irish starts, the latter being the Moscow Flyer Grade 2 at Punchestown. No holes to pick in those runs beyond the lack of decent rivals - just how good is he? With the stable having won this race two years in a row, they know how his form lines up and are pretty confident. But is his price any value? This race has been a graveyard for favourites over the last decade, but Vautour reversed the trend last year. Not run on better than soft going and this is a small field...

Jollyallan
If it wasn't the Irish going wild for a Mullins/Walsh favourite winning the first, it'd be everyone else cheering for Tony McCoy opening his final Festival with a winner. Is three from three on good-to-soft going where the Festival will start, and his official rating is up there with the market favourites. Beaten last time in a small field at Sandown, where his jumping again wasn't perfect and that sapped his stamina on the uphill finish. Won't have the luxury of doing that here either, the hill is unforgiving. Still a bit green, hard to be confident under this pressure when his jumping has flaws. Expect him to be right in the race at some stage but crashing through a hurdle or two to disrupt his momentum.

L'Ami Serge
The main danger to the favourite and Britain's best hope of opening with a winner. Henderson and Geraghty is a very safe combination at Festival time, and this 5yo gelding is unbeaten since crossing the channel. The ratings men will tell you those wins all stack up well against Douvan, but again they are in small fields and none of those rivals line up here. Listed, Grade 2, Grade 1 is a nice progression to the Festival, winning by six, seven and 14 lengths respectively. Right in this, the bookies will be cheering him louder than most, they need one of the Mullins quartet to sink all the accas early.

Qewy
Flat-bred (by Street Cry) with only two runs over hurdles so likely to be lacking a bit of experience. Won a Gr3 Novice Hurdle at Newbury last time, drier surface won't be a hindrance, needs a big step up to be in this but not completely out of it.

Seedling
Three from three for trainer Warren Greatrex, a trainer who has excelled this season particularly in lower grades. He's the only horse in the field with a victory over the course and distance which must count for something. Relishes firmer ground, has conceded weight to rivals in his latest wins, best chance of a surprise result.

Shaneshill
Star bumper horse from last season with two runs over hurdles, winning a big field maiden at Fairyhouse and then beaten at 4/9 in a G2 at Navan. Has made a couple of mistakes in those runs and has a few pounds to improve on the ratings. Second pick for Mullins, plenty of potential left in him.

Sizing John
Beaten a long way behind Douvan at Gowran Park in November then won a weak G1 at Leopardstown during the Christmas Festival when outsider of the field and the odds-on pop fell. Long way short of what's needed here.

Some Plan
Beaten by Seedling in December, just making up the numbers here.

Tell Us More
Interesting runner from the Mullins camp, drops back from 2m4f when narrowly beaten by McKinley (33/1) in a G1, conceding the winner 3lb. Paul Mullins commented in one of the many podcasts I've listened to that this horse could easily surprise the stable - drop in trip likely to suit, firmer ground... Bryan Cooper rides this Gigginstown Stud-owned runner, loses nothing there. Don't rule him out.

Velvet Maker
Took four races to win his maiden, that doesn't merit consideration in a Grade 1. Can't blame the owners for entering him, who doesn't want to have a runner at the Festival? Absolutely no hope.

Summary
On price alone, I have to be against the favourite. All the numbers say it's flip-a-coin against L'Ami Serge but the betting says 2/1 vs 7/2. If the prices were reversed, I'd be on the Irish horse but today it's all about the hype. Seedling and Tell Us More definitely provide value and will go into my Placepots.

1. L'Ami Serge
2. Seedling
3. Tell Us More
4. Douvan

but remember to keep your eye out for the best available offers!

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