Get excited, it's time for Cheltenham, and this time the crowds are back!
During the Festival, I'll go into detail on one race for the day and a summary preview for all the others, delivered on race morning as I'm not someone who likes to do much of my study before fields are finalised.
SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES' HURDLE
Grade 1, 2m87y, £135,000
Cheltenham, Tuesday, 1330 local, 1430 CET, 0030 Wed AEDST
Going: Good to Soft
1.Bring On The Night - had nearly two years off before his solitary start over hurdles a fortnight ago. Made a couple of mistakes, not massive ones, which I'd put down to greenness more than anything. Third string of the stable but he's also the least exposed. The other pair have had their cards on the table all season, but this one has snuck up late. No winner in the past 10 years had only one previous run that season so lack of experience must be a concern. Tongue tie applied for the first time. Place chances at least.
2. Constitution Hill - has bolted in both starts for Nicky Henderson, winning a novice and the G1 Tolworth Hurdle on very heavy ground, without being tested. Second and third from that race were terrible next time out (although fourth won) - does the form stack up? His ratings suggest a similar level of form to Henderson's last winner in this race, Shishkin, however that horse only recorded an average winning Timeform rating over the last 10 years. Could this year be stronger than average?
3. Dysart Dynamo - now the number one seed from Willie Mullins after Sir Gerhard was sent to the Ballymore instead. Four starts, four wins, and none closer than 7.5L. The two hurdles wins have been by 19L. Hard to get a line on the strength of that form other than through times but have to believe that if Sir G has been sent to another race, this one must be a machine. Only knows how to go hard in front, what happens if there's one good enough to go with him this time?
4. Jonbon - the expensive brother to the champion Douvan (won this race in 2015 on his way to 15 straight victories) who has yet to see defeat in five starts. He has taken a slightly lesser Grade 2 route than his main rivals but don't let that sway you. There's a big engine in here and he's hardly had to use it. Hasn't seen an undulating track yet nor a solid pace in his races - I reckon those might just be the conditions he has been crying out for.
5. JPR One - has won a pair of novice hurdles with moderate ratings and then tried his hand in the Betfair Hurdle (richest handicap hurdle in the country) and was run off his legs. Not up to these however the Tizzard stable has hit form at the right time of year.
6. Kilcruit - star bumper horse (flat races for National Hunt-bred horses before they take on the hurdles), but then needed three starts to win over hurdles, each time at long odds-on. His first defeat was due to sloppy jumping, the next was against a leading chance in the Ballymore on Wednesday and a future Grade 1 runner-up (so it's not as bad as first though), and third time lucky, they added a tongue tie, he put it altogether and destroyed a fairly weak field. His hurdle ratings (Racing Post) haven't yet surpassed his enormous bumper figures meaning there's either an enormous upside or he's a lousy jumper (or both). If the penny dropped last time, then look out but jumping mistakes are more costly at this track than anywhere he's done it before.
7. Mighty Potter - the 'quieter' Irish challenger, who bolted in on hurdling debut at Down Royal, a track Gordon Elliott loves to run his good horses at, then was pitched into Grade 1s at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown. In the Royal Bond, he was a bit green and just missed behind Statuaire and My Mate Mozzie, which looked strong form at the time but both of them later flopped at the Dublin Racing Festival behind Sir Gerhard, so the depth of that form is a query. In the Future Champions Novice Hurdle over Xmas, he (Mighty Potter) fought on well to win, but he kept wanting to hang left on the flat and I'm a little concerned that will cost him against this class of opponent. Nine of the last 10 Supreme winners have run the last two months, he's been off slightly longer than that. Can't see much value in his price despite being tipped up by plenty - the typical each-way thievery players.
8. Shallwehaveonemore - handy British form but running in much weaker company. Earlier in the season he was 26L behind Constitution Hill in the Tolworth, perhaps part of that was due to the ground. Needs massive improvement to be competitive here.
9. Silent Revolution - one run for the season, a narrow win back in early November, his only start over hurdles, and a long way short of this form. Trained by Paul Nicholls but hasn't been mentioned anywhere in his leading hopes for the Festival. 100/1 for a reason.
This is a cracking race to start the Festival - a relatively small field (only last year has been smaller since 2000) but packed to the core with quality. It's not uncommon for Henderson and Mullins to go in multi-handed, nor is it uncommon for there to be not much between their entries. I'd much rather be taking 5 or 6/1 on Jonbon and Kilcruit than 9/4 or 5/2 the two favs. So predominantly on value:
Bring On The Night