Min to strike early for Supreme team

Min to strike early for Supreme team

The famous Cheltenham roar that greeted the start of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle once stood alone as the one certainty on the opening day of the festival.

Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh now appear hell-bent on changing that age-old festival truism.

For three years running Mullins and Walsh have teamed up to land the curtain-raiser in the now-famous pink and green Rich Ricci silks that are becoming such an iconic part of the Cheltenham Festival itself.

Champagne Fever, Vautour and, 12 months ago, Douvan have carried Walsh home in what ought to be an ultra-competitive start to the four days at Cheltenham.

Each year in that sequence, the returned starting price of the winner has shortened and this year Mullins and Walsh are gearing up for a genuine Supreme Novices' Hurdle hotpot!

Even before he had ever been sighted on a racecourse on these shores, French import Min had a lofty reputation. Whispers surrounding the work he was doing behind closed doors at Mullins' Closutton base meant he was very much a 'talking horse' amongst the public and nothing he has done since going racing has dampened the hype.

His first start in a Punchestown maiden hurdle brought a smooth success against a runner-up in Gurteen that has gone on to frank the form by winning a bumper and a maiden hurdle of his own.

Min's second start, also around Punchestown, raised some questions as he raced freely early on but, once more, he pulled clear of his rivals in the manner of a hugely talented horse.

Walsh believes his keenness will not be a barrier come the Supreme at Cheltenham as it proves positive to be up with the pace. So, the key question now is: can anything prevent a Mullins/Walsh four-timer in the festival opener?

Highest-rank amongst the opposition may go to the Nicky Henderson-trained Altior, who has strung together an impressive sequence of victories since going hurdling this winter.

Altior looks to have plenty of gears and should offer up a stern test to Min. He also has winning Cheltenham form having won a trial for this race at the November meeting. Perhaps one slight concern lingers in that, when winning that race, John Ferguson's Maputo appeared set to ask some serious questions as they cleared the final hurdle but that rival, despite just a half-length defeat, finished lame and was subsequently retired.

Equally appealing from the Seven Barrows team is the unbeaten hurdler Buveur D'air. He is yet to be truly tested in this sphere and is clearly well thought of by his trainer.

Defeat on heavy ground at Taunton over Christmas has since led to the Paul Nicholls-trained Modus flying under the radar. Owned by JP McManus, Modus found only Moon Racer too good in the Champion Bumper last March and, having impressed in two hurdles wins already this season, he could be one to take seriously on better ground come March 15th.

Champion trainer Nicholls has saddled Noland and Al Ferof to land the festival opener in the past and it would be no surprise to find Modus being well supported on the day.

Trainer Henry De Bromhead is adept at producing a Cheltenham winner and he seems to be sweet on the chances that Supasundae will make up into a smart hurdler following his Leopardstown success in December.

De Bromhead sent out Sizing John to fill third place behind the Mullins good thing Douvan a year ago and it seems certain that Min will be the one everyone has to stop in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

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Cheltenham Countdown

The countdown to the 2016 Cheltenham Festival is on and we’ll be posting big-race previews every week as we build up to the biggest four days in the National Hunt calendar.

Ante-post markets for the Cheltenham Festival are dominated by Willie Mullins-trained runners and the first of the four-day bonanza looks set to be dominated by the Closutton handler, who saddles no less than four red-hot favourites.

Min, Douvan, Faugheen and Annie Power (or Vroum Vroum Mag) could all have the bookies running for cover and the Mullins’ machine can inflict further damage on the layers when Un De Sceaux lines up for the Queen Mother Champion Chase the following day.

Mullins looks likely to launch a three-pronged attack on Friday’s Gold Cup with Djakadam, Don Poli and Vautour all major players for the showpiece event.