Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2011 Preview

Supreme Novices Hurdle winner, Menorah

Supreme Novices Hurdle winner, Menorah

The first race of the Cheltenham Festival 2011 is the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, run over two miles and a half furlong, for horses aged four or older. In recent seasons it has been dominated by the Irish, so it is interesting to see that this year's ante-post lists contain a proliferation of British-trained horses at the head of affairs, with just the occasional Emerald Isle interloper.

Perhaps this presents an opportunity to find some value, and to give us a flying start for the toughest, funnest, bestest, four days racing anywhere in the World. [Hyperbole? Actually, no, I don't think so...]

Last season's Supreme winner, Menorah, bucked a couple of pretty strong trends, with his victory coming off the back of a runner up finish the time before and also given that he was trained in the UK.

Let's take a look at the Supreme Novices' key profile angles, and see if we can't pare down the ante-post lists to a likely candidate at a fat, juicy price to give us a ticket on which to weave a dream of a winning start to the 2011 Cheltenham Festival.

First up, I mentioned a couple of points in relation to Menorah: the Irish have dominated in recent years, bagging seven of the last ten runnings of the Supreme Novices. And, eight of the last ten (and twelve of the last fourteen) Supreme winners won last time out.

If we extend the last time out performance to previous winners' entire hurdling careers at that stage, it's interesting to note that seven out of the ten had never been out of the first two. That stat includes Menorah. So we might very well say that we're mostly interested in a last time out winner, but we'll consider runners up if they've never been out of the first two.

Five and six year old's rule supreme in the Supreme. Although Captain Cee Bee won as a 7yo in 2008, and Like-A-Butterfly as an 8yo in 2002, only five horses older than six or younger than five have claimed the Supreme Novices' glory since 1974.

A really interesting point - at least, I think it's interesting - is that half of the last ten winners had never won better than a Class 2 novice hurdle and, whilst there's a hatful of last time out winners claiming the spoils in the Supreme, only one horse - Brave Inca in 2004 - actually won a Grade 1 event last time out. In other words, I suspect that the Supreme Novices Hurdle is typically won by a horse who has been brought along gradually; one undoubtedly with more potential than it has thus far demonstrated; and, consequently, one which usually pays a better odds multiple than the favourite (who is normally the horse with the best public form).

Eight of the last ten winners had between two and four runs over hurdles, with one of the exceptions - Go Native - having had five hurdle starts in 2009. Too bad for Toubab, then, who has already had six starts, and actually only managed to win one of them.

Perhaps lending some credence to my 'hiding their light under a bushel' notion is the fact that, perversely perhaps, nine of the last ten winners of the Supreme Novices have failed to run a previous Topspeed figure above 126. Whilst it is obviously harsh to penalise a horse for performing to a higher level, this does suggest that each year the winner runs a good bit faster than they previously have.

Moreover, horses who have shown only slow races prior to turning up at Cheltenham on a Tuesday in mid-March, do not win the Supreme. The Topspeed bracket for winners' previous best speed figure has seven of them in a range between 107 and 126. For the purposes of this study, I have elected for a range of 105 to 130.

On the other hand, Racing Post Ratings have more clearly pointed to the potential of Supreme Novices winners, by recording a rating of 137+ against the names of eight subsequent winners prior to their Cleeve Hill success. Indeed, seven of those eight had notched a 143 or better.

Stallions preclude no runners, with an even split of jumps and flat sires amongst the last ten winners. But Irish bred horses hold the upper hand, having grabbed seven to UK bred runners' three wins in the last decade.

An interesting sidebar on breeding is that Frenchies have a moderate (at best) record, with just the exceptional Hors La Loi III (subsequently Champion Hurdler) winning for the French-bred's from 42 starters in the last fourteen years. He was a 9/2 chance...

My penultimate pointer is that ten of the last eleven Supreme Novices Hurdle winners had their final prep race within 45 days of lining up at Cheltenham. Given that there are currently 48 days until tapes up in the Cotswolds, I'm expecting the winner to have another run between now and then.

Finally, and as a neat enough segue into this year's contenders, let's remind ourselves of the abominable record of Cheltenham Champion Bumper runners in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. I researched this last year when pondering the case of early 2010's Pegasus, Dunguib (where are they now?!).

He won the previous Champion Bumper in a similar fashion to Cue Card's rout last March. At that time, I mentioned that only Montelado had won both the Bumper and the Supreme Novices, making him the only horse ever to have won back-to-back Cheltenham Festival races. Of course, the Bumper is no longer that last race on the card, so Montelado will hold that unique position in history forever.

Casting aside the anorak momentarily, the material point in all this is that Montelado, way back in 1993, remains the only Bumper winner to have won the Supreme. AND... only Back In Front has joined him from the full casts of the previous year's Cheltenham Champion Bumper. Of course, these stats are made to be broken, but I'd be very cautious about piling into Cue Card at best odds of 5/2 in light of the above.

So, to the rest of this year's contenders and how they shape up against the profile we've created. It should be clear that there are currently more question marks in this puzzle than your average university entrance exam, and the ethereal nature of this conundrum is akin to the proverbial attempts to nail jelly to a wall. That's why those generous bookie types are still offering 14/1 bar two in the race! 🙂

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Cue Card is a standout form horse at this stage, but may not have as much improvement as others (may not need any improvement). But... he is up against the Bumper stat. And... he might still go for a different race. And... he's highly unlikely to be shorter on the day given his unfashionable connections and the strings of 1's adorning many contenders' form lines cometh the hour.

So, politely decline the Cue Card for now, with a view to possibly taking a 3/1 saver on the day, should he turn up. (Remember the clamour to 'give Dunguib away' last year? Many bookies would pay you back if Dunguib won - I'm sure there will be some doing likewise this year).

Next in, and the only other in single figures is Ireland's leading light - according to the odds board at least - Zaidpour. He's a Frenchie, which doesn't preclude him from winning, but does put me off, given their weak overall record. He's done little else wrong, being beaten a fag paper in a muddling race last time, and he's entered in the Deloitte Novices, a Grade 1, on February 6th.

He'll be around 5/1 for the Supreme if he wins that, and both Brave Inca (2004) and Like-A-Butterfly (2002) won that prior to Supreme Novices glory. Still, I'm looking for value with so many unanswered questions at this stage, so my quest continues, into the deeper double-digit depths of the oddsmakers.

The third choice with some books is Backspin, who ranges from 12's to 14's where offered. On Betfair, he is a 45 shot, which bears reference to the fact that he's probably going to run in the longer Neptune Investments' hurdle. Apart from that, all his wins have been in slow times, and his Grade 1 victory may actually count against him in the context of the Supreme. No thanks from this quarter.

The Neptune may also be the preferred destination for Rock On Ruby, and indeed Minella Class as well.

This leaves Hidden Universe as the only other contender in the top six in the betting more likely to run in the Supreme than the Neptune. On that score alone, Skybet's 14/1 may appeal. Factor in his trainer's 'softly, softly' approach so far and he's tempting. But... he ran in last season's Champion Bumper, and he's yet to reach the requisite speed and form figures, albeit off just the one hurdle run.

Hidden Universe has two entries later this week, which will tell us more about the horse. On the basis of what he's achieved, his current price seems to factor in quite a lot of what he might be projected to do going forward. So, reluctantly, no thank you.

From the chasing pack of potential protagonists emerges Spirit Son. With just two runs, one of which was in France, he 'could be anything' (couldn't they all?!). Nicky Henderson has a pretty poor record in this race in recent years, and hasn't won since Flown in 1992, despite saddling plenty of fancied runners (including Binocular, Khyber Kim and Oscar Whisky in the last three years).

And he's a Frenchie with their accompanying poor record, and he's got more to prove on the ratings - which he likely will do.

I could go through the top 22 in the betting with cases for and against (as I have done in the document at the bottom of this post), but you might be getting bored of all this dessert decoration (jelly-nailing, if you prefer), so let me cut somewhat belatedly to the chase and tell you who I like at the prices and with all foregoing caveats in situ.

Prince Of Pirates, a Henderson inmate, was traveling as well as the leader, Al Ferof, when that one fell at odds on last time, and won cosily up Cheltenham's hill on his only hurdle start so far. As a McManus-owned horse, you can expect money for this one on the day should he line up. A possible but 33/1 is only fair in my view (57 on the Betfair site).

Gibb River may be yet another Henderson hoss, but he's had a very covert preparation so far. Two wins in Class 4 big fields at short prices offer hope that he's got more in the tank, and I'm very keen to see where he turns out next. The 25's generally (44 Betfair) looks worth a speculative couple of quid, as he's likely to be half those odds if winning next time.

Extremely Tentative Selection: Gibb River

Below is the 'working out', and below that, my current ante-post portfolio.


Supreme Novices Hurdle 2011 [Open Office Document - download Open Office free here.]

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2011 [Excel file]

Ante-Post ups and downs...

Ante-Post ups and downs...

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10 replies
  1. Craig says:

    A very impressive post Matt. And I read every word! 😉

    ‘Nailing jelly’ ? That would be a great name for a horse methinks!

    My previous attempts at ante-post Cheltenham and Aintree betting have been nothing short of disastrous with a host of non runners and drifters. Some got injured, a few died!!…..others went for other races and those that did run lost!…My one success was getting 8-1 about Michel D’Hagenaut a couple of years ago who went off about 2-1 and stormed the race (which I can’t remember the name of!).

    But factor in all the ante-post disappointments I’ve had and I’m well down so now it’s a market I leave to the experts such as yourself who can create a sensible ‘book’ by getting on with plenty of margin. I’m far too slow and slapdash for that! Clearly you do the research and get in at optimum value and good luck to you in that regard. Your effort deserves to be handsomely rewarded.

    Yet even for those of us who aren’t wanting to tie up our pot at this stage, there are some excellent pointers to be gleaned regarding the trends. My chosen strategy now is to wait and see which of the horses you name as positives actually ends up at the tape on the day. I’d rather take a much lower price knowing I’m going to get a run for the money. AND if he or she is opposing a short priced favourite such as Cue Card, then the price will still represent ‘value’ even then. Because if we are going to get Cue Card beaten (and your case against stacks up very well in that regard) then there won’t be many horses in the race to beat him with from a trends perspective. So a good trends horse at 6-1+ on the day would do me just fine. 🙂

    By the way, stick to the horses Matt….. your Newcastle for relegation ‘portfolio’ looks to me like a non runner!

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Thanks Craig. I do like to grab a speculative book. As it stands, if pretty much any of those horses wins (still a big IF), I’ll break even or thereabouts. The Tuesday has most of my action, so I’ll know my ante-post fate sooner rather than later.

      Re Newcastle, I placed that bet on the day they announced Pardew had taken over. The Maggies plunged into 7/2 for the drop, but I thought I’d stay in. There’s a lot of teams in the poo this year, and the Geordie boys are far from safe yet. Look out too, for Blackpool’s plunge to the nethers…


  2. Dan says:

    Hi Matt,

    I did my analysis of the Supreme just two days ago, going back as far as the race that Montelado won, as he was the winner of the first ever Chamion Bumper. I didn’t include TS and RPR trends but I did come to the same conclusion as you did and backed Gibb River at 43/1 on BF. Of course, if Cue Card turns up and runs to his official rating, the others won’t see which way he went, but I don’t trust that he really is a 159 horse yet.

    In the same way that no horse since Montelado has won the Champion Bumper and Supreme in consecutive seasons, no horse since Bula has won the Supreme and Champion Hurdle in consecutive seasons (1970 & 71). In fact, Bula is the only horse to have achieved that since the war! (Although Supreme winners have obviously gone onto win the Champion, just not in the next season.) History is against you, Menorah, as well as your jumping! (Not strictly relevant to this article I know, but the stats are similar…)

    Regards and keep up the great work Matt! I am always pleased when a link to a new Geegeez blog post arrives in my inbox 🙂

  3. westhamray says:

    matt on reading your post and , like craig above i read every word, i have to say that you have probably talked me out of betting in this race. But i have to say that it is one of the most impressive articles i have read for ages keep it up mate and good luck


  4. ron.goodall says:

    to matt
    another good write up i agree with a lot what craigs says [ and i;ve mentioned before over the years i have lost a lot of money ante post ] so i leave it and get a run for my money
    regards ron.g

  5. mr. john murray says:

    hi matt,
    as usual excellent post. read every word and true to form your reasoning is trustworthy.
    i am not an ante post gambler. as you know i am just exited watching the races. whether i win loose
    or break even, the 3rd option there would do me fine. i will enjoy the festival.

  6. john cutler says:

    Watch the woodwork for late info winner will appear when the time is ready ( not mentioned it in this article ) by yoou i believe.
    Plus to all those who think that (Menhora cannot win then so be it, this just happens to be one of my very lucky races. Rember Kauto Broke the mold in the gold cup.

  7. Sean says:

    Brilliant write up on the Supreme – like to try and get the profile of the potential winner myself, have previously not figured in the TS stat myself but like what you had to say about it.

    Gibb River is who I nailed my colours to Monday when I went through my stats and have been ‘googlin’ about his chances since (reason I ended up reading this) … anywaysthe only thing that was putting me off him was the RPR figure awarded to him after he won as he liked @ Wincanton LTO under a double penalty – his RPR prior to this was 137 but gets 112 from the Wincanton race. Must have something to do with collateral form but would of much preferred his chances if he had of been awarded a mark in the high 140’s. Having said this I still reckon he is as you have pointed out ‘under the radar’ and definitely worth an e/w punt.

    Regarding Menorah/Bula – did not know Bula was the only one to win Champion HR after winning Supreme the year before but can give you a stat that will be in his favour:
    Look at the races which Hobbs won with both Rooster Booster and Detroit City on route to winning the Champion in the same year – both won the Greatwood H’Cap off top weight (would of liked to see Menorah win by further) and both won the Bula/International after that the next stop for both was the Champion. Having said all this I do believe the one he will have to beat is Hurricane Fly – he ticks all the right boxes…. probably end up punting both on the day.

  8. Sean says:

    Have to hold the hands up here – Detroit never won the Champion! …. don’t know what I was thinking there but still give Menorah a shout for the Champion!

  9. Hugh Morgan says:


    Have a look at the videos of Magan’s Star winning. This could be the dark horse in the race.

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