Supreme Novices' Hurdle 2012 Preview: Trends, Stats and Tips
It's less than three weeks until the tapes go up on the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival 2012, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
And, after short priced defeats in the past two years for fancied runners (Dunguib and Cue Card), this year's race has a much more open feel to it... which should mean value if we can find the winner!
Looking first at the stats, then the form, and finally sharing my pick, is what I propose. So let's crack on. We start with 91 entries to work away at, and some will depart the 'likely candidate' scene more readily than others...
Supreme Novices Hurdle 2012 Trends
There are lies, damned lies, and statistics, of course, so you may favour some of these over others. However, in order of perceived significance, I offer the following:
1. All of the past fifteen winners were in the first three last time out, and thirteen of them won last time out. Although this might seem like a no-brainer, the facts are that - starting with 25/1 winner Indefence in 1996 - 87% of the winners have come from the 40% of the runners who won last time out.
For those of you tempted to sympathise with the cases of either Darlan or Colour Squadron (as I was), both of whom fell last time, note that none of the thirteen horses who failed to complete on their prior start have won the Supreme. A small sample, but you'd be wanting a reliable jumper in the hurly-burly of this two miler.
Demand a last time out winner.
2. Horses aged five or six have won eleven of the last fourteen renewals (78.6%). However, they have also provided 80.6% of the runners! Looking more long term, and my thanks to Gavin Priestley for this, 33 of the last 37 Supreme Novices' Hurdle winners were five or six years old at the time.
So, we're either looking at a recent blip to a robust statistic, or a changing trend. Given that two of the other winners were older, and one was younger (the brilliant and precocious Hors La Loi III), I'm happy to side with the percentage play, both in terms of overall runners and winners.
Five or six year olds only please.
3. All bar one of the last fourteen winners had between two and five hurdle runs prior to turning up in the Supreme. Again, this covers most of the entries. But... scratch a little deeper, and we can see that of the six UK winners, only Hors La Loi III ran less than four times over timber (he ran thrice).
Scratch further still, and you'll see that only Ebaziyan - beaten a short head on the first of two prior hurdles runs, and a 40/1 bomb in the Supreme - and Back In Front - 2nd in the Grade 1 Royal Bond on hurdling debut! - were beaten over timber from the less-than-four-hurdle-runs brigade.
So, I shall be looking for horses with four to five runs to their names; or unbeaten horses (and those who were 2nd on hurdles bow).
4. Of those six winners in the last seven years to have held an official handicap rating at the time of their win, all were rated 136 to 147. Since 1997, 22 horses rated 143 or higher have attempted Supreme glory, and only one has succeeded. Beware the highly rated beast in this contest.
So, I will look for an unrated horse, or one officially marked between 136 and 142 (as five of those six recent handicapped winners were).
5. If you like an ex-UK flat horse, you may have a problem. The last one to even make the frame was Straw Bear, who finished 2nd in 2006 (Sublimity, subsequent Champion Hurdler, was fourth that year too).
Indeed, the trend in recent times - as pointed out by Paul Jones - is for bumper sorts. Consider this: last year, the first four home had all previously run in National Hunt flat races. In the two years prior to that, it was the first FIVE home who fitted that profile.
In 2008, only Binocular - the subsequent Champion Hurdler - could prevent a 1-2-3 for the bumper horses. Both Binocular and fourth placed Kalahari King had cut their racing teeth in French flat races.
Emerging trend, or coincidence? I'm not sure but the percentage play is to favour bumper horses or those who previously raced on the flat in France.
6. The score for the last fifteen years is Ireland 8, UK 7; and for the last 22 years is 11-11 ! So no discernible bias there, alas.
7. Recency of a run seems material, with all bar two since 1993 winning within 45 days of their last racecourse outing.
8. The last eleven winners had all won in a field of sixteen or more prior to lining up at Cheltenham. The Supreme Novices' Hurdle will be a twenty-plus runner affair, and horses will need both physical presence and tactical speed - as well as flat out speed - to get a proper run.
So I'm especially interested in horses that have won in a field of fifteen or more.
All right, so those are the facts and figures, but how does that whittle our group of 91 contenders?
Let's firstly remove those who didn't win last time out. It is, of course, possible that one or more will run - and win - between now and Tuesday March 13th. In that case, we'll add them back in, should they tick our other short-list boxes.
Of those 91, only twenty-three won last time out, leaving me with a sense of unease around the likelihood that we just squashed the winner at the first port of call. Let's proceed on this basis for now, as we can always add nags back in when we come to the more purist form study section.
Now we'll excuse any horse not aged five or six from duties. Four-year-olds are more likely to run in the Triumph Hurdle, and older horses have a fair bit to do in speed terms against their younger, generally nippier rivals.
This leaves us with nineteen horses, who won last time out and are aged five or six.
Thirdly, we're looking for horses having run four or five times, and those who raced twice or more and are unbeaten (or only beaten by one on hurdles debut). Whilst that sounds contrived, it's actually quite reasonable on the basis of the form book: bar a losing head bob from Ebaziyan, the only beaten horse with less than four runs was Back In Front, who probably boasted the best form in the 2003 renewal of the Supreme.
At this stage, we lose Fourth Estate, Galileo's Choice, The Way We Were (entered on Sunday though, and a win would reinstate him), Molotof, Close House, Agent Archie, Trifolium and Ted Spread. This leaves us with eleven possibles.
Now we'll remove any horse with a rating outside of the band 136-142. Sympathy will be applied for higher cases, and a little latitude on the low side too.
Tetlami is the highest UK-rated horse in the field, with a figure of 149. He is followed by Simonsig (146). Seeing as there has been a winner of 147 in the recent past, it seems churlish to hurl any of these from consideration, and so I won't.
On the downside, no horses still on the shortlist are rated lower than 136.
All of this means there's been much ado about nothing, as a dozen or so remain standing.
Finally, I'm keen to side with ex-bumper or French flat horses, over Irish or UK flat types. Again, I'm afraid this rules nobody out, meaning we still have a trends shortlist of eleven.
Looking at point 7., recent run, Felix Yonger would need to be taking up his weekend engagement to remain in the first eleven, as would The Way We Were (who also needs to win).
Meanwhile, Steps To Freedom looks like heading straight to the Supreme, and that's a big worry. He's scratched from our list as a consequence of a 123 day absence from racing.
Cinders And Ashes also will have been off for 52 days, which is too long for this stat-man. Ditto Midnight Game, Monksland and Divapour.
Those who remain look like this:
Felix Yonger (if running on Sunday), Allure Of Illusion, The Way We Were (if running and winning on Sunday), Simonsig, Tetlami, Montbazon, and It's A Gimme.
Of those, Simonsig is likely to run in the Neptune, I understand, which leaves six. From that sextet, only Tetlami and Montbazon have won in a field that big. It's A Gimme was second in a field of eighteen, and also won in a field of fourteen so is retained.
The trends trio then are Tetlami, Montbazon, and It's A Gimme.
Supreme Novices Hurdle 2012 Form
With so many horses racing on both sides of the Irish Sea, it's a conundrum attempting to pull together the respective form lines. But then, to a lesser or greater degree, that's true of any race anywhere. So let's apply ourselves and see where we end up.
In the absence of any of my own numbers, the logical place to start for a full list of figures is with the highest Racing Post Rating horses. This happens to be Royal Bond winner and second, Sous Les Cieux (actually, not certain to run: entered in the Neptune and a shorter price for that) and Galileo's Choice.
Sous Les Cieux is a horse I'm not especially keen on. Quite apart from the fact he's more likely to go for the Neptune than the Supreme, he also seems a weak finisher to me, as I mentioned on December 5th.
He's been beaten favourite on four of his last six starts and if you're still tempted to back him here, then good luck! If you'd followed my advice, you'd either have layed him in those two recent defeats, or at least backed something against him.
Galileo's Choice ticks all the trends boxes except that he's had less than four runs and was beaten after debut, and he's ex-flat. In fairness, that defeat - like Back In Front in 2003 - was when second in the Grade 1 Royal Bond.
His wins before and since don't tell us anything much and, whilst he was smart on the flat on a sounder surface than he's raced on over hurdles to date, he's an ex-Irish flat horse, which is a bad thing in the recent context of the race. Enough negatives for him to be respected as a possible 'frame' horse without expecting him to win.
Pearl Swan, a four year old, is next in and surely more likely to run in the Triumph Hurdle (in which he has a decent enough chance, I'd say).
Then comes the tumbling Darlan, who has been given his rating despite falling at the second last. A lot happened thereafter, and the rating is - in my opinion - presumptuous... especially when you consider it was a stone in excess of anything he'd done before.
The fall will leave its mark, and I'm afraid he probably won't come back to win the Supreme. Saying that, if he hadn't have fallen and had have won the Betfair Hurdle, he'd probably be favourite for the Cheltenham Festival opener. 12/1 pretty much factors in the 'what if' and leaves little upside for punters, in my view.
[Incidentally, connections' Get Me Out Of Here did win that race back in 2010 but were still picked off by Menorah in the Supreme at Cheltenham].
Ex-French flattie, Midnight Game, got a monster rating of 148 for winning a four runner ungraded novices hurdle at Naas. Whilst that is quite hard to fathom - for me at least - he did beat a 142-rated horse readily enough, which about justifies the Irish handicapper's perch of 145.
Willie Mullins (one winner from twelve runners in recent years) reckons Midnight Game will be better on better ground, which he'll get at Cheltenham. Given that he won on both good and soft in France, that's a matter for conjecture. Nevertheless, with a win in a field of sixteen he represents both an improver and most probably his trainer's best hope in the race this term. 10/1 is fair, despite reservations about time off the track since his last run.
Ignoring the four year olds, and Noel Meade's Dylan Ross (limited scope for progression from a mark of 142, and beaten in his last four starts), we arrive at Cinders And Ashes. Not beaten far in the Cheltenham bumper last year, and a winner of three of his four hurdle starts in small fields, I just feel the combination of time off (52 days), and the shrewd placement thus far which has inflated his rating above what it perhaps ought to be, he's not for me.
That brings us to Tetlami, Montbazon, It's A Gimme and Colour Squadron, and I have the feeling that the winner may be housed within that quartet.
The last named is a bit of a monkey, for sure, and he too fell at the second last at Newbury last Friday (like Darlan). But he's talented no doubt. The form lines between these lads make it hard to choose between It's A Gimme and Colour Squadron, with Montbazon and Tetlami possibly a length or two behind them.
But... Montbazon looks to be improving and more reliable. And... It's A Gimme might go for the Neptune rather than the Supreme (he's quoted at 33/1 for both)... And Tetlami is unbeaten over hurdles!
At the prices, I think It's A Gimme offers some value, despite his last two runs not being as good as when he saw off Colour Squadron. But I'm waiting for non-runner no bet concessions before availing of a sliver.
Tetlami is a horse I've backed already, after his cosy win from Vulcanite in a decent race at Kempton on Boxing Day. Obviously, he didn't achieve much when scoring in a 'jumpers' bumper last time, but he did it well.
And, in an ante post portfolio with more holes than a golf course (i.e. mine), I'm happy enough with a bit of 28's, win only (best priced 16's now).
I can't make a robust case for anything else from a form perspective, which means
The form shortlist is Midnight Game, Tetlami, Montbazon, Colour Squadron and It's A Gimme.
Supreme Novices Hurdle 2012 Tips
As befits a race where those generous bookie types are currently offering 8/1 the field, it's fiendishly difficult.
But there are reasons to be hopeful, if not confident, about a few.
I'd far rather side with Midnight Game than Galileo's Choice of the Irish contingent, and I feel that Willie Mullins - trainer of the former - knows what it will take to beat the latter, based on his Sous Les Cieux being responsible for stealing Galileo's unbeaten timber record.
From the home defence, I do believe that somewhere in that knot of Tetlami, Montbazon, It's A Gimme and Colour Squadron lies the answer. I'm not really sure where though!
It's easiest (though still not easy) to say that It's A Gimme hasn't trained on since beating Colour Squadron, and draw a line through him, especially with the doubt over his double engagement. But he could run well at a big price, if committed to the Supreme.
Montbazon was impressive the other day, and a strict line through Vulcanite gives him the beating of Tetlami, who is unquestionably progressive himself.
Colour Squadron is less reliable but brings Grade 1 form into the race, from a Tolworth Hurdle that he'd have won on another day. That race hasn't been a brilliant trial for the Supreme in any case, so perhaps I'll reluctantly eliminate this naughty chap.
All of which machinations and quackery lead me to the following...
Midnight Game, Montbazon and Tetlami against the field
Midnight Game is a general 10/1 shot; Montbazon a best priced 12/1 (7/1 favourite with Coral); and, Tetlami is still around the 16/1 peg.
In a wide open race, I'd encourage you to check out the latest odds here, before getting involved.