Supreme Novices Hurdle 2015 Preview, Trends, Tips
Due off three weeks today, the first of 27 races at the Cheltenham Festival and arguably the most anticipated in the entire calendar, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle is a two mile half a furlong novice hurdle.
In recent times, it has been a great scene setter for the annual battle for supremacy between Britain and Ireland, with the Supreme score locked at 5-5 over the past decade.
Supreme Novices Hurdle Trends
With a little help from horseracebase.com, below are some trends which may help whittle the contenders from the pretenders in this year's Supreme. All relate to the last seventeen renewals going back to Shadow Leader in 1997 (no meeting in 2001 due to the foot and mouth outbreak).
Age: 14/17 winners (82%) were aged five or six, from... 82% of the runners! Age is unlikely to be a factor.
Last time out:
Finishing Position: 15/17 Supreme winners also won last time out. That represents 88% of the winners, from just 41% of the runners. Don't make excuses for a defeat the last day...
Days since a run: 15/17 Supreme winners last ran between 16 and 60 days ago. That's 88% of the winners from 74% of the runners. None of the 33 horses to run within a fortnight of the Supreme itself has even made the frame.
Class: Whilst 7/17 winners ran in Grade 1 or 2 races last time, it is well worth keeping in mind that nine ran in ungraded company in their final prep for the Supreme. Combining an ungraded prep with a last day win was sufficient to (marginally) beat break even at starting price, though it should be noted that 40/1 Ebaziyan contributes significantly to that factoid.
Seasonal Runs: 15/17 winners since 1997 had between two and four seasonal runs prior to their Supreme victory. Those 88% winners came from 62% of the runners. The other two winners during that time had five races that season.
Combining all of these snippets suggests a last time out winner, rested between two weeks and two months, with between two and four (five at a push) seasonal starts. Decent priced last day ungraded winners may be worth a second glance.
The trio of last day win, two to five runs in the past year, and a relevant break has netted nine winners since 1997, from 63 runners, for a profit at SP of 23 points.
Those who look likely to fit this loose identikit are Beast Of Burden, Black Hercules, Douvan, Glingerburn, Laser Hawk, Morning Run, Nichols Canyon, Outlander, Qewy, Seedling, Some Plan, and Velvet Maker. Five of those twelve are trained by Willie Mullins, who also led the last two Supreme winners in.
Supreme Novices Hurdle Form Preview
As with a number of races on the first day, a horse from the Mullins camp casts a long shadow across its field. In this case, it is Douvan, and it will royally set up the battle 'twixt bookie and bettor should he win. With Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and Annie Power all potentially to follow, that quartet could lead to a bloodbath in the ring.
Before such apocalyptic scenarios are considered, we ought not to get ahead of ourselves. The first leg of that quaddie is the Supreme, and Douvan - rock solid favourite though he is - still has some unanswered questions.
Since crossing the Channel after a win and a second, he's won both starts in Ireland: on his domestic debut, he sluiced home from Sizing John, himself good enough to win a Grade 1 the next time, albeit after Nichols Canyon tumbled. The form of the rest that day looks below top class, but that's hardly the fault of the easy winner. Douvan then went on to win a Grade 2, beating a small group of horses that would not have been entirely at home over two miles. The three to run subsequently have failed to make the frame between them, which gives the form a hollow look at this early juncture.
Nevertheless, ratings agencies have been impressed with the French import, and there will be plenty who want to pile in at short odds. For me, I've got to look elsewhere when the top offer is 2/1. In a race full of unexposed last time winners, it just doesn't make sense to back the shortest priced of them.
It is perfectly possible for a dozen horses to step forward during the Supreme on the limited evidence displayed so far and, while Douvan is one of that number, he's the least attractive financially, and the least imaginative. Moreover, this is a race in which ante post plays should be kept to horses that may shorten between wager day and race day, as there is sure to be an abundance of concessions offered up by bookmakers keen to have you load up your wallets with them.
Douvan has to show he can do it at Cheltenham - never a given - and he has to show he can do it on quicker ground. All the contentions and convictions in the world about a horse's liking for a sounder surface are as nothing when set next to a single form line evidencing unequivocally the same. Willie's Big D has yet to affirm his affinity for the firm... as it were.
To clarify, Douvan looks the most likely winner on what we've seen so far, but conditions at Cheltenham are expected to be some way different from those encountered to date, and 2/1 screams 'oppose'.
It's then only 9/2 L'Ami Serge and, while this lad was also undeniably impressive at Sandown last time, he too has racked up a trio of soft ground wins thus far. Moreover, a break of 66 days since that Tolworth triumph is longer than any winner since at least 1996, and he will be one of numerous Hendo horses hoping that a racecourse gallop is as effective a preparation as a decent trial.
(Side note: racecourses, surely it's in your interest that racecourse gallops happen under the auspices of an actual race, no?! Desist with this anti-sport, please!)
Serge has dominated his fields in three UK runs, and arguably has been more impressive than Douvan. If he'd had a more recent run, I might have been tempted, but with nine hurdle starts to his name already he likely has far less scope for improvement than... well, than all of his rivals.
Harry Fry's Jollyallan would be a popular winner, the young lad looking a fair bet for champion trainer honours one day (Jolly Harry, not Jollyallan). The fact is though that both times he's stepped into Pattern company, he's been beaten: first when only sixth in the Punchestown Bumper last April, and then when second in Listed company at Sandown. He is proven on a sounder surface, and he could challenge for minor honours, but last day losers very rarely get it done in the Supreme.
Nichols Canyon was good enough to win twice in Listed company on the flat for Johhny G and, barring a blotted copybook in the Christmas Grade 1 at Leopardstown, he's been an impressive recruit to the winter game. His jumping is a bit sticky - see previous sentence - but looked to be improving based on his comfortable Deloitte Grade 1 win, and that's a race where the winner went on to take the Supreme in both of the past two years.
At the prices, Nichols Canyon looks a pretty fair each way bet, though there remains a niggle that he could be routed to the Neptune. Perhaps a small bet now at 6/1 to win any race at the Festival is the play (William Hill), as he'll surely have a favourite's chance in the longer race if showing up there.
Alvisio Ville was behind the Canyon in the Deloitte - twelve lengths behind - and he was deserted by Ruby in favour of the winner, too. Given that Ruby will likely ride Douvan, that makes Alvisio third, perhaps even fourth, choice of the Mullins squad, final declarations notwithstanding. No thanks (though I did back him speculatively earlier in the season. Sigh).
The other Mullins horse at the top end of the betting is Shaneshill. Last year's Champion Bumper second and Punchestown Champion Bumper winner has done well over hurdles, without necessarily sparkling. There has to be a likelihood that he'll be targeted at one of the longer races - probably the Neptune - in any case, though he'd need to improve a fair bit in my view to win any of them.
Qewy has been a bit of a wise guy horse in recent days, thanks mainly to his nomination by Pricewise(guy). Although he's a son of US dirt sire Street Cry, his best form on the level was on deep ground, and his sole hurdling win from two starts was on soft as well. That's not to say he won't act on quicker but, like others, he has to prove he does. Moreover, the form of that Newbury novice hurdle win gives him at least a stone to find to catch up with his rivals. Assuming some of the better ones step forward - a solid assumption - I'd be a little suprised if Qewy was good enough.
Tell Us More will surely go further (and want deeper), and Seedling might need soft ground to perform to his best. Saying that, he was quite impressive on good to soft at Cheltenham last time out, and that form - like his two previous races - is working out well enough. Assuming the Greatrex team are in better nick come March, the 33/1 in a place on Seedling might look quite juicy, and he's the sort of potential shortener worth playing in a futures market where on-the-day gimmicks will be rife.
Silver Concorde has looked only slightly above average over hurdles thus far which, compared with his peer group-leading bumper form, has been disappointing. It's still possible that he's a spring horse, and he may also be a springer in the market given connections. 33/1 undoubtedly requires a leap of faith, but those odds have sufficient latitude to accommodate such a grope in the dark. However, a note of caution: he is not a certain runner at Cheltenham.
Finally, Bentelimar has taken plenty of support lately, and this improving sort ticks a fair few boxes. Proven on all ground, he won a Listed race last time out in taking fashion, and has stamina for further than the Supreme trip. He's not for me, due mainly to his relatively exposed level of form, but I can see why others have been drawn to him.
Supreme Novices Hurdle Tips
The Supreme is usually more of a guessing game than many of the Cheltenham Festival races and, in such a context, one (well, this one at any rate) has to demand a bit of flab in the price. Thus, the likes of Douvan and L'Ami Serge, while their chances are well advertised, offer scant reward for unadventurous wager.
Moreover, from an ante-post perspective, this market above all others at the Festival is rife for burglary on the day of the race, as bookmakers clamour for an early cut at punters' purses. The short pair will be available at (relatively) daft odds on the day for small money, so treat yourself then, not now.
For now, I quite like Nichols Canyon, though without the safety net of Non Runner No Bet, he's a precarious proposition. Better to play him at 6/1 in the 'to win any race at the Festival' market for half stakes, and lob the other half if/when bookies go NRNB.
Two that could shorten a fair bit from their current odds are Silver Concorde and Seedling. The former needs to step forward on hurdling form, but has proven class and Festival form. The latter has crept up the ranks, and didn't really look like winning until, well, winning last time on the other course at the Festival track. That stamina will be an asset in the Festival opener.
33/1 both is all right, and allows for being completely wrong to small money in what is, as I've suggested, a bit of a(n educated) guesser's race.
1 pt win Nichols Canyon to win any Festival race 6/1 Hills
0.5 pt win Silver Concorde 33/1 Stan James, Coral (might want to look at 20/1 Boylesports NRNB)
0.5 pt win Seedling 33/1 Ladbrokes