Matt Tombs / Thursday 12th February 2015 / 12:28
The Supreme has traditionally been the Grade 1 novice hurdle that is most likely to produce a surprise at the Festival. Vautour was a joint-favourite when winning last year but he was the first for a decade and some short priced favourites were turned over in the interim - My Tent Or Yours (2nd at 15/8), Cue Card, (4th at 7/4), Dunguib (3rd at 4/5), Cousin Vinny (5th at 9/4), Amaretto Rose (3rd at 2/1) & Sweet Wake, (5th at 5/2).
Its possible Willie Mullins has changed the dynamic of the race though. He’s trained the last two winners – Champagne Fever was seen as a likely Albert Bartlett runner a few days before the race but was heavily backed into 5/1 when winning the best renewal of the modern era, (My Tent Or Yours & Jezki followed him home,) two years ago. Last year joint-favourite Vautour bolted up. I think its odds-on Mullins will win the race again, and have been trying to second guess his plans for this and the Neptune to pin-point the right bet.
Mullins likes to keep his A-Team apart and I thought I’d worked it out after Nichols Canyon’s (12/1) impressive Deloitte win on Sunday over 2m2f. Ruby Walsh described him as a stayer and I was convinced he’d go for the Neptune, with Douvan the No 1 for the Supreme, (Black Hercules looking the stable’s main chance in the Albert Bartlett.)
To my mind Nichols Canyon looks the ideal type for the Neptune – he stayed 2m on the flat and has won Grade 1s over 2m and 2m2f over hurdles. Re-watching the Deloitte, I thought he put a good field to bed in great style. He looked to land awkwardly over the last, (his fast, low style of jumping carries risks,) which I’d attributed to why he didn’t clear further away from his field. Others have suggested he was tiring on the run in and the Supreme would be his race. I don’t see it like that, but Paddy Power, who tend to know what’s happening in the Mullins camp, went a stand out 8/1 Nichols Canyon for the Neptune earlier in the week, whilst being bottom price him for the Supreme.
Given he likes to keep his A-Team apart, I’d be surprised if Mullins ran Douvan and Nichols Canyon against each other. They could swap races, or it might be that a horse like Tell Us More or Shaneshill is working the houses down suddenly at home and are in the A-Team – meaning Douvan and Nichols Canyon will take each other on - so I’m not much further forward.
Looking at Mullins’ potential team for the Supreme, Douvan (9/4) is much the most likely winner. He hasn’t beaten much yet, but that’s not a huge handicap in this and the vibes could hardly be stronger. He’ll probably be that sort of price on the morning of the race though. Of the Mullins Gigginstown owned horses, my guess is that Tell Us More (25/1) is the most likely runner in this. He had a reputation to match Douvan and Alvisio Ville during the season, but let that down last time and it’s hard to know what to make of his chances at this stage. If he doesn’t run Outlander (28/1) might instead but he doesn’t look a 2 miler.
Shaneshill (16/1) is in the same ownership as Nichols Canyon and I’d thought he’d therefore represent the Wylies here. Given its not the case that both clearly want the same trip, I imagine they’ll be kept apart so I can’t back him ante-post either. Alvisio Ville (20/1) might have learnt a lot from his Deloitte 3rd, but is a big shell of a horse so its hard to know what to expect next, and I think he might well be roughed off with chasing in the autumn in mind. Boylesports have gone NRNB and are still 20/1. He’ll be a single figure price if lining up so you can back him now NRNB and lay it off if he runs. None of the other Mullins contenders look great value NRNB.
L’Ami Serge (9/2) looks a classy novice and the glint in Nicky Henderson’s eye when talking about him suggests he has a real chance. His Gerry Feilden win has worked out really well with runner-up Kilcooley winning by 23l off 4lb higher next time and 3rd Violet Dancer winning the Betfair Hurdle off 3lb higher. L’Ami Serge beat Killutagh Vic, who looks a 3 miler, next time and it was probably a poor Tolworth he won on his last outing – but he looks well up to challenging for a Supreme. I wouldn’t put anyone off backing him, but given how likely I think Mullins is to win this, I’d want to see a real superstar in the making to back a horse from another yard at 9/2. Good though L’Ami Serge looks, he doesn’t scream value at that price.
The only other two runners at shorter than 33/1 have both been put up by Pricewise. Jollyallan is now 12/1 and whilst I thought he enhanced his credentials when only just getting edged out by the more experienced Garde La Victoire, (who gave 2lb,) in an open minor contest last time, he didn’t look battle hardened enough for this. I think we’ll see the best of him next season.
Qewy (20/1) was a smart horse on the flat, (rated 102,) and after an initial disappointment in a Grade 2 on his hurdling debut, won impressively at Newbury, beating the well thought of Cardinal Walter, (who gave 6lb,) by an easy 6l. He doesn’t look straightforward and a lot of John Ferguson’s classy flat recruits have looked impressive in ordinary contests, only to disappoint when raised in class. I’m happy to oppose him.
There are two I like at big prices though. Seedling (33/1) is a 2nd season novice on a sharp upward curve. He’s won all 3 runs this season and the form has worked out really well. In his last victory at Cheltenham over 2m1f, he beat Some Plan, (who received 4lb,) 1½l. Some Plan bolted up in a good novice at Musselburgh next time. The 3rd, Padge, was beaten 25l and won next time. Warren Greatrex yard has been a bit out of sorts recently, but Seedling is apparently on course for the race and he looks too big a price, especially NRNB.
I knew it would take a huge price to tempt me into some each-way value against the Mullins battalions – and at 50/1 Bentelimar has done just that. He’s been really progressive since being switched from Philip Fenton to Shay Barry, winning a novice handicap at Leopardstown at Christmas off 126, and he was then impressive when winning a listed 2m novice at Punchestown last time.
He gave All Hell Let Loose 3lb there and beat him 3½l with the useful Mr Diablo and two of Willie Mullins entries for the Festival Grade 1 novice hurdles, Avant Tout and Aminabad, behind. I wouldn’t want to take such a line of form too literally, but in the Grade 1 Royal Bond, All Hell Let Loose was 5l 2nd to Nichols Canyon on 6lb worse terms than he met Bentelimar here.
Bentelimar didn’t jump that well at Punchestown, but he’d jumped better the time before at Leopardstown – and might prefer going left-handed. He showed a real turn of foot between the last two hurdles at Punchestown, which suggested he’ll be able to hold his position in the Supreme. If he puts in a clear round, he could easily be in the mix.
Of the 17 at 33/1 or shorter, 7 are trained by Willie Mullins, who’ll probably run about 3. 33/1 shots Peace And Co, Parlour Games, Windsor Park and Silver Concorde are unlikely runners – I’m anticipating no more than half of those 17 running. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was a small field of maybe a dozen or so - and Bentelimar was confirmed an intended runner by Shay Barry earlier in the week.
He’s won on good to firm and there should be no issue with ground, nor trip. He clearly has to improve from an RPR of 143 last time, but looks on a strong upward curve and shouldn’t be a 50/1 shot. I’m keen to take a bit of a flyer now and then look again nearer race day.
0.5pts e/w Bentelimar in the Supreme Novices Hurdle @ 50/1