Too much to detail in one post, so I'll break it up into the big race analysis here, and the rest of the card in separate article.
R1, 1330. THE SUPREME NOVICES' HURDLE
Chasing Fire - undefeated in five starts with three over hurdles, but there is a massive gap in class between Market Rasen (albeit both his wins there were by 16L), a Sandown Class3 Novice and the Festival. The picket fence looks nice but he's far more likely to run 11th than first.
Dark Raven - runs in the famous double green colours of Munir & Souede. Just the two hurdle runs, a 3L win over Doctor Bravo and a third, beaten 9.75L, in the G1 Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival, behind Il Etait Temps and Inthepocket, ahead of Facile Vega. Made jumping errors last time, looks to be the outsider of the Mullins quartet.
Diverge - ex-French Flat galloper. Has had only two starts for Willie Mullins, sixth in High Definition's maiden win at Leopardstown, followed by romping in at Punchestown in a weaker maiden. Can never underestimate Willie's battalion here but the SP difference on debut between him (10/1) and stablemate Parmenion (placed third, 4/5fav) who has shown in two further wins that he's nowhere near this level, suggests that unless he's grown another leg, victory here is unlikely.
Doctor Bravo - an unusual formline for a top novice, he finished a close third in the open-age G3 Red Mills Trial Hurdle a month ago (just behind stablemate Fil Dor and the veteran Sharjah), after winning a maiden at Down Royal. Previous to that, he made his hurdles debut at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, finishing 3L behind Dark Raven, in a time 6.3 seconds slower than High Definition's win on the same card. Gordon Elliott's only runner in the race, I think it's more out of the need to have a runner here rather being a prime target for him.
Facile Vega - just two outright favourites in the last 18 runnings of this race have been successful. Since he disappointed in the G1 Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival (went too hard in front, prefers softer ground), he's been on the drift, but with soft ground now likely for Tuesday, that drift may switch back the other way. Anything other than favouritism would be new for him, his highest SP has only been 15/8. As blue-blooded as you can get in the National Hunt sphere, by super-sire Walk In The Park out of multiple Festival winner Quevega, he won the Champion Bumper last year in awful ground.
Fennor Cross - hasn't raced since November which is a big negative (26 of last 28 winners have raced in same calendar year) but his last two runs have been wins at this track. One of those was the 'G2 Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle' which is a massive misnomer as none of them were anywhere near good enough to win this. Nor is he.
High Definition - the one-time Derby favourite who never lived up to the hype from his 2yo season, failing in his last 12 Flat starts (not helped by being 6xGroup 1, 4x Group 2, 2x Group 3 races!). So instead he went jumping, curiously not being gelded (do Coolmore want to have a National Hunt sire who actually ran over the jumps?), and winning on NH debut in a Leopardstown Maiden Hurdle. He was then thrown in the deep end in the DRF G1 Novice Hurdle and tried taking on Facile Vega in front. He made a mess of the first hurdle (perhaps due to moving from bright sun into shadow behind the stand?), looked to regain his composure then missed a stride coming into the fourth hurdle and unseated his rider. Ended up running last without his rider - that's not a natural jumper to me. This is not a race for poor jumping or losing stride by going too fast. He's disappointed for much of his career, as much as I'd love to see a top Flat-bred become a star over the sticks, I can't see it happening here.
Il Etait Temps - wears a hood, 0/38 runners in headgear have won this race in the past 30 yrs. Won the DRF G1 Novice Hurdle after High Definition unseated and Facile Vega ran out of stamina. Cruised up to the favourite on the bend then ran away from them to win by almost 10L. A fast pace is almost assured here, could he get the perfect race set-up again? Four of the past five winners of that Irish race have won at the Festival - two in the Supreme, two in the Ballymore. Trust Willie, this one has certainly improved for the hood being applied, perhaps it's time for that trend to be beaten?
Inthepocket - ran second in the DRF G1 Novice Hurdle, beaten 9.5L behind Il Etait Temps. He got caught behind the tiring Facile Vega at a key stage of the race but that would only give him two, maybe three, lengths' grace. He dropped back 4f that day, after winning a G2 Novice Hurdle at Naas in mid-December, and looked a bit slow to pick up in the straight at Leopardstown, off quite a fast pace. McManus-owned, De Bromhead-trained, ridden by Rachael Blackmore - three factors you should never ignore at Cheltenham!
Marine Nationale - hasn't run since early December (see Fennors Cross for that trend). Took a huge step forward to win the G1 Royal Bond at Fairyhouse, straight out of maiden company. That was not only a big rise in class, but a big step up for his jockey Michael O'Sullivan, a 5lb claimer, who can't use that advantage in a Grade 1. O'Sullivan arrives in top form having won the Leinster National on Sunday so it's safe to say his claim won't last much longer. In the Royal Bond, he tucked in closely behind the pace, stayed calm until approaching the final hurdle when he came out to make his run, stumbled over the last, lost a few lengths and stayed on to claim victory right on the post. He may not have enough race experience but he certainly has some race smarts. You'd assume he'd be starting favourite if he was in the Mullins or Elliott yards.
Palace Boy - nothing he has done suggests he is remotely good enough to be competitive here. hould be a fun day for the owner anyway.
Rare Edition - beat the well-regarded Rubaud at Kempton on Boxing Day, that horse since being a leading fancy in the Betfair Hurdle (only 10th) and then won the G2 Dovecote a fortnight ago. The concern about Rare Edition was his run in the Listed Hurdle at Huntingdon a month ago when he could run only second in a four-horse field (SP 4/5). Perhaps it was the lack of pace, or the extra 3.5 furlongs he won't face here, if you can forgive that and focus on his profile of progression until that stage, he's a big price.
Strong Leader - the second of Olly Murphy's pair, but like the stablemate, he's been picking off easy wins at a much weaker level and this looks way above his pay grade.
Tahmuras - Paul Nicholls runner who took out the Tolworth at Sandown in early January. Probably the leading chance of the UK contingent, but doesn't look as dynamic as the main Irish hopes. A grinder who might need further, or a hectic pace upfront.
Interesting race to kick off the Festival, it mightn't have quite the hype of previous years with the favourite going sour in recent weeks (although recent rain might negate that), but intriguing all the same. Horses coming into this race off an unplaced run have a rotten record, excusing Labaik, the talented rogue who would regularly refuse to race apart from that day in 2017, and you have to go back to the mid-90s to find a Supreme winner who was unplaced last time out.
The Irish will probably win this, but this is a race for cashing in on as many special offers as you can, and having a bit each-way on Rare Edition.
RARE EDITION each-way (28/1), Marine Nationale, Il Etait Temps.