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Supreme Novices' Hurdle preview

It's time to play the music
It's time to light the lights
It's time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight...

Or as they'd always say on Celebrity Deathmatch, "Let's get it on!"

It's here, it's here, the Festival is finally here! Taking on the challenge of the opening race of the Festival, the one which often seems to make or break it for bookies (and some ill-disciplined punters), is blog debutant, Cian Ryan, @cianryan92. Welcome aboard Cian!

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Skybet Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Grade 1, £125,000, 2m87y
Cheltenham Tuesday 1330 local, 0030 AEDT


At 1:30pm, the famous Cheltenham roar signals the start of The Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle and brings to an end the long wait for the festival. Run over 2m 1/2f at a good gallop, the cream usually rises to the top having produced classy previous winners in Vautour, Douvan and Altior. Willie Mullins has dominated the race in recent years with three of the last four winners. For most punters Willie Mullins’ “first string” is the starting point in solving the puzzle, however, this year does not seem so straight forward. It has been very difficult to establish a pecking order amongst the Irish novice hurdlers with many of the horses beating each other. Further muddying the waters is the fact there is no stand out English novice hurdler either.

I try and avoid being too reliant on stats and instead use form in order to prevent labelling horses as “too old” or “hasn’t had enough runs over hurdles”. Granted Supreme winners tend to have a certain profile but these types are often well found in the market. It is a market not to get stuck into with large bets but it is rewarding to solve the puzzle and get some decent value in the process.

This year is particularly intriguing with a Willie Mullins hype horse in Melon leading the market. The vibes are strong for this horse and is a short price on the back of an impressive maiden hurdle win. That maiden hurdle win has earned the horse a BHA mark of 153. This would suggest the horse doesn’t have to improve much to take the race. It is a farcical handicap mark in my opinion and shouldn’t be taken literally. Broken Soul who finished second to Melon has since been well beaten at long odds on and finished a remote sixth last week. Even though the form has been let down, it is hard not to take notice how confident Willie Mullins is. Quoted in a stable tour on the 27th of February, “We are likely to have plenty of runners in the race including Bunk Off Early who has Grade 1 form, but based on homework, I’d say it will be an easy enough decision for Ruby to ride Melon.” This is quite surprising to have such an easy decision off the back of just a maiden win. That said Willie Mullins uses schooling races a lot to create a pecking order. This also highlights Melon may not be inexperienced as his form figures suggest (preview night rumour was that he has schooled 'at least twice', Ed.). Ruby has chosen the wrong horse quite a few times in the novice hurdle division this season so I’ll be taking a chance he gets it wrong here again.

Apparent second string Bunk Off Early brings Grade 1 form to the table and a progressive profile. The son of Zebedee raced freely in the Deloitte hurdle but still stayed on to finish a good second behind Bacardys. I was waiting for the horse to empty and fall in a hole but he knuckled down well. Dropping back one and a half furlongs and a likely stronger pace will surely suit better. He also boasts a progressive profile, improving from his first run to his second but that is reflected in his price. At twice the price of melon the horse looks to be the value bet.

The English challenge is led by Ballyandy who got the better of Movewiththetimes in the Betfair Hurdle when in receipt of 1lb. The pair pulled six lengths clear of a decent yardstick in Clyne, showing themselves to be thrown in off a handicap mark of 135 and 136 respectively. The hustle and bustle of the Betfair Hurdle is a valuable preparation for this race but he will have to improve a bit and is prohibitively priced at 7/2 in my opinion. Movewiththetimes would have been an interesting proposition at double the price but as has been the case for a lot of Cheltenham this year, he has picked up an injury.

Of the others River Wylde was impressive last time out beating Elgin but was receiving weight. He has won all his races on flat tracks and will have to prove he handles this stiffer test. Beyond Conceit has taken well to hurdles off the back of a massive layoff from the flat. He refused to settle off a moderate gallop last time and a faster pace may suit. That said he looked a stayer in his last race and the drop back in trip may not be guaranteed to suit. High Bridge was a decent bumper horse last year and has rattled off three hurdle wins this season. He deserves to take his place here.

Crack Mome may be the forgotten horse of the race as Graham Wylie suggested that he was his most exciting novice this season. He appears to be written off in the market but hasn’t done a lot wrong. He was outstayed by Any Second Now at Punchestown last time having made a bad mistake at the last. It is easy enough to forgive that run as he was always prominent in a truly run race but Any Second Now letting down the form next time out isn’t ideal.

Overall the Supreme is a tricky race this year with lots of unexposed types and no stand out performer. The race has cut up quite significantly in recent days with Moon Racer going to the Champion Hurdle and potential favourite Neon Wolf going to the Neptune. Both horses would have had a massive chance in my eyes so the defections make this puzzle a little more difficult to solve. The hype horse, Melon, isn’t passed over very easily as Willie’s confidence is infectious. I can see the horse being a bigger price the morning of the race as the layers will be anxious to get the meeting off to a good start. 9/2 or 5/1 would be enough to tempt me to get involved. BUNK OFF EARLY is a rock solid each way proposition at 13/2 and should make the frame. Doubting Ruby Walsh’s judgement usually isn’t the quickest way to get rich but he has struggled to get a firm grasp of the novice hurdle pecking order at Closutton. Getting over double the price is definitely worth the risk in my eyes. I would not be surprised to see Crack Mome go close either but he has a point to prove after his last performance.

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