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Supreme Novices' Hurdle preview

Await the Roar! Day one of Cheltenham is just hours away and it traditionally opens with the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. It's been a Willie Mullins benefit in recent years, will bookmakers cop another early battering with a superb Irish novice hurdler at the top of the market?

David Stephens returns to the blog with his sharp assessment of the opening race of the Festival, you can follow him on Twitter @DaveStevos

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SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES´ HURDLE
Grade 1, £120,000, 2m 87y, Old Course
1330 local 0030 AEDT


With just a day to go until National Hunt Racing's showpiece meeting gets underway the excitement and anticipation is almost at fever pitch. All the tension and nerves will be released with an almighty roar when the runners in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle come under starter's orders at 1.30 on Tuesday afternoon, and it looks to be an intriguing race. The opener sees the first of a raft of Willie Mullins' hotpots in Min taking his chance, and he will be looking to follow in the famous hoof steps of stable mates Champagne Fever, Douvan and Vautour and make it a four timer for Mullins and Ricci in this race.

The last two winners, Douvan and Vautour, were heavily hyped and even more heavily backed, and they both obliged at 2/1 and 7/2 respectively. However, prior to the recent Mullins domination of this event there was no shortage of double priced winners, and Mullins himself sent out Ebaziyan to score at odds of 40/1 back in 2007. All the big owners and trainers will be represented and there are plenty of potential dangers to Min, some of whom will go off at very nice prices. You can read what I make of their chances in an in depth preview below.

MIN 2/1

This 5yo son of Walk In The Park has looked sensational on his two Irish starts so far. He didn't pull up any trees in a couple of runs back in France as a 3yo, but Willie Mullins obviously saw something he liked and Rich Ricci did what he does best and got his chequebook out. He has looked a different animal on these shores, and after two facile wins at Punchestown he has been backed into 2/1 favourite for this, and he could end up going off even shorter.

He was sent off at 4/11 in a 21 runner maiden (18f soft) on his Irish debut and won as he liked. The second home that day, Gurteen, is no superstar but he won his next two starts so there is some substance to the form. Min was stepped straight into Grade 2 company on his next run at the start of January, again at Punchestown (16f heavy) and he again demolished the field, beating subsequent Listed and Grade 2 winner Ball D'Arc by 11L.

Being by the same sire as Douvan he should have no problems with better ground, though the fact remains that we won't know until he actually runs on it. It is no surprise that he has been heavily backed given his connections and the impressive manner of his two wins, but he looks very skinny now at 2/1 and for a horse that is unproven on the likely going I couldn't be backing him at that price. Those that snapped up the double figure odds about him early in the season will be sitting pretty, but for me there is better value to be found elsewhere now and he won't be seeing any of my hard earned.

ALTIOR 4/1

This 6yo son of High Chapparal is the current second favourite for the Supreme and he has looked a high class animal on his four starts this year. His trainer Nicky Henderson has won this race twice, but his last victory came all the way back in 1992. It has been a long time between drinks for Henderson, but he sent out the second and third home in 2014, and the runner up in 2013 too, so it is not as though he doesn't try and target the race.

This gelding has some serious form in the book, and most importantly he has shown he is effective on decent ground and at the track. He took the trial for this race here back in November (15.5f good to soft) by half a length from Maputo, and he followed that up with a 13L hammering of Open Eagle at Kempton off level weights. He was eighth behind Bellshill, beaten 8L, at Punchestown in the Irish Champion Bumper last season (16f good/yielding), but he is unbeaten this season and he looks a much stronger horse this year.

His sires' progeny usually improve over time and there is no shortage of decent jumpers on the dam side of his pedigree. He is proven on the likely ground, he has shown he likes the track and he looks like a serious challenger to the favourite. At odds of just 4/1 though the value has definitely gone, and I would only get involved if he was to drift out to an each way price before the race. Nico De Boinville will ride.

BUVEUR D'AIR 7/1

5yo son of Crillon who is another in the care of master trainer Nicky Henderson. He has had just the two runs this season, in a maiden hurdle (16.f soft Newbury) and a novice (16f good to soft Huntingdon), and he made mincemeat of the opposition on both occasions. The form of his maiden win worked out alright, with the second home (beaten 11L) Wait For Me going on to score on his next two starts.

He had decent bumper form last season, finding only Barters Hill too good by less than a length in a Listed heat at Newbury on soft, but he was over 14L behind that horse when they met again in the Grade 2 bumper at Aintree on better ground. His bare form leaves him with a fair bit to find with his stable mate Alitor, but he is completely unexposed over timber and a big run wouldn't come as a massive surprise.

He is bred to be a Grade 1 jumper, and his half brother Punchestowns was a magnificent servant to Henderson, winning a Long Walk hurdle and a Grade 1 novice chase, and he also put it right up to Big Bucks in the World Hurdle back in 2009. Noel Fehily has been booked for the ride and he was on Buveur D'Air's back for his last two wins. He has a bit to find on the form book, but he is an each way price at 7/1 and it would be foolish to write him off.

TOMBSTONE 14/1

There was plenty of talk about this 6yo son of Robin Des Champs earlier on this season and he was sent off at prohibitive odds to land a bumper by 11L on his comeback run at Down Royal back in October (16f yielding/soft). That was followed by an authoritative win in a pretty weak maiden at Fairyhouse, and the hype looked like being justified.

However, his bubble was burst by Long Dog when stepped into Grade 1 company next time at Leopardstown (16f heavy) but he didn't enjoy the clearest of runs and was beaten less than a length. He was kept to Grade 1 company last time, again on heavy at Leopardstown (18f) and this time he again finished second, beaten 3L by Bleu Et Rouge (Bellshill 15L behind in third).

After those two defeats he comes here as something of a forgotten horse, but it would be folly to write him off. His dam, Connaught Hall, had a distinct preference for good ground and Tombstone has yet to encounter anything better than yielding/soft. He will likely get good ground for the first time in his career at Cheltenham, and it could be the making of him. He can currently be backed at odds of 14/1 and I think that represents outstanding each way value. Bryan Cooper rides.

SILVER CONCORDE 16/1

High class flat bred son of Dansili who won the Champion Bumper on good ground here back in 2014 at odds of 16/1. Followed that up with a second in the Irish equivalent at Punchestown (good to yielding) but he remains a maiden over hurdles, finishing runner up in two heavy ground maidens and finishing fourth behind Nichols Canyon (beaten 15L) in a Grade 1 on yielding ground at Leopardstown.

He was campaigned on the flat late last summer and landed a high class 15f handicap off a mark of 91 at Leopardstown (good to yielding). His last run came when he trailed in a 13L second behind the re-opposing Supasundae in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown on heavy (16f). However, he has yet to encounter his favoured good ground over timber, and if there is no soft in the ground description at Cheltenham on Tuesday he will go there with every chance.

He has a lovely flat pedigree and his dam is from the family of the top class Ridgewood Pearl. He has shown that he has no problems with the track and the weather forecast would suggest that he is in with a good shout of getting his ground. If it does come in his favour he won't go off at 16/1, and he is also a Pricewise selection for the race so if you are going to back him you should do it sooner rather than later.

SUPASUNDAE 16/1

Henry De Bromhead trains this 6yo son of Galileo and he is another with a very attractive flat pedigree. He was produced as a 4yo by shrewd handler Tim Fitzgerald to win a bumper on his first run, and he changed hands soon after. He was next seen in the care of Andrew Balding and he put in a mightily impressive performance to lower the colours of Yanworth at Ascot (15.5f soft) in December 2014. He was then picked up by the Potts family, and he finished 6th behind Moon Racer on his first run for current connections in the Champion Bumper here.

He was fifth behind Stone Hard on his first run over timber at Gowran (16f soft) but he left that effort well behind when slamming Silver Concorde by 13L on bottomless ground at Leopardstown. However, I think that Silver Concorde has a lot more potential for improvement on better ground than Supasundae, and if it comes up good on the day I would be firmly in the Weld horse's camp. They are currently the same price at 16/1 but I think Supasundae has outside place claims at the very best.

BEST OF THE REST

Charbel is an interesting contender at long odds, and the Kim Bailey 5yo has been ultra consistent. He was less than 3L behind Yanworth on his penultimate run at Ascot (15.5f soft) and he dotted up at Musselburgh last time. He showed in the Grade 1 bumper at Punchestown last year when fourth, just 6L behind Bellshill, that he belongs at this level and he is another with outside place claims at 25/1 for those seeking a bit of each way value.

CONCLUSION

As can be seen from the above this is a mightily competitive race this year. Min is the favourite but he looks plenty short now at 2/1, and I would much rather be a layer than a backer at that price. The two Henderson horses go there with every chance, and I would have a slight preference for Buveur D'air of those two. Silver Concorde will also come into the reckoning if the ground dries out enough and should not be discounted. However, I think it is worth chancing that TOMBSTONE will improve hugely for the switch to good ground for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown, and at odds of 14/1 he is the each way suggestion.

STEVOS' SELECTION: TOMBSTONE E/W 14/1

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Fancy writing a preview yourself? Drop me a line or write a comment below, there are plenty of races still available and it's a great way to collate your research into a proper finished work. #showcaseyourtalent

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