Matt Tombs / Tuesday 21st January 2014 / 13:50
The Supreme often has a hot favourite – though they have a poor record. Since Brave Inca won at 7/2 ten years ago, 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) have all been beaten.
The other 3 renewals have had favourites priced at 8/1, 13/2 and 6/1. There are years where there isn’t a novice that looks an obvious star and, with lots of similar, less proven formlines, it’s a big price the field on the day. There’s still 7 weeks to go and market leaders like Irving and The Tullow Tank could become hotpots with impressive performances in the Betfair and Deloitte hurdles respectively. However, unless that happens it could be one of those years where its about 7/1 the field.
There are no less than 55 runners quoted at 33/1 or shorter. To start with we need to eliminate as many horses as possible. I can’t back horses that haven’t run over hurdles yet, (although I may back them nearer the day if they impress in the meantime.) That takes out Novirak, Empiracle, Union Dues, Golantilla, Urubu D’Irlande, Clean Sheet, First Mohican & Flash Of Genius.
There are a number of horses whose form strongly suggests they aren’t good enough - I’m eliminating Port Melon, Electrolyser, Vaniteaux, Carriganog, Fascino Rustico, Garde La Victoire, Lieutenant Colonel, Noble Inn, Oscar Hoof, Real Steel & Vicente.
There are also a number of good novices that are much more likely to run elsewhere at the Festival. There’s obviously a risk in eliminating them – last year’s winner Champagne Fever would probably have been eliminated by this process, but it’s vital to take a view as these horses make up a lot of the market. I’m taking out Royal Boy (Neptune,) The Liquidator (Neptune,) Faugheen (Neptune / Albert Bartlett,) Red Sherlock (Neptune,) Ballyalton (Neptune,) Briar Hill (Albert Bartlett,) Diamond King (Neptune), Calipto (Triumph), The Skyfarmer (Neptune / handicap) & Captain Cutter (Albert Bartlett).
Next I’m eliminating horses with injury/illness issues, (they’re also worth keeping an eye on in the interim but can’t be backed now). That takes out West Wizard & Blackmail. I’m also eliminating Wilde Blue Yonder. Alan King is a top-class trainer but given he’s had to shut down his yard recently, you’d want to see that the horses were going well again before backing one ante-post. At longer odds Gilt Shadow (40/1) went off 9/2 for the Royal Bond but didn’t run his race and hasn’t been seen since. He’s not an ante-post proposition but is worth watching out for.
That takes us down to a more manageable 17 at 33/1 or shorter. The next step is to try and work out what the big yards / owners are going to run. Willie Mullins trains 7 of the 17 – Vautour, Valseur Lido, Moyle Park, Aklan, Renneti, Arctic Fire & Wicklow Brave. He may also have some unknown quantities that he hasn’t unleashed yet, (Ebaziyan made his hurdling debut on 21st January, before winning the Supreme.)
Vautour (12/1) was heavily backed for the Supreme before just beating Western Boy in the Moscow Flyer. Willie was leaning towards the Neptune afterwards, which suggested Faugheen would contest the Albert Bartlett. However, with Clondaw Court now in the running for that, Rich Ricci might keep them apart, by running Vautour in the Supreme. There’s too much uncertainty to back him now.
Valseur Lido (25/1) has hacked up twice this season since joining Willie from France. The 2nd was a bad race but his 13l maiden win at Cork might have been good form, (the 2nd & 3rd haven’t run again but the 5th has won since.) He’s a tempting price but is owned by Gigginstown. Whilst he looks their obvious Supreme horse, he could run in the Neptune if one of their other novices impresses, so I’m passing him over for now.
I like Arctic Fire (33/1) who was only 1½l behind The Tullow Tank in the Royal Bond, having found all sorts of trouble in running, (didn’t go on the bad ground on his subsequent run.) Interestingly, Willie said before that last run, “Plenty of people think Arctic Fire is the best novice around. He’ll get a chance to prove that today, although he won’t like the ground.” Ideally, you’d wait to see him line up on decent ground, having taken the occasion well, (he’s the type to run his race in the preliminaries).
Nicky Henderson has Josses Hill (14/1), the Tolworth runner-up, as his likely runner. After his maiden win at Newbury, Nicky said “You would mind him for this year because he’s a chaser for next year.” He’s unlikely to be hard trained for this and Faugheen beat him 22l on the bridle.
Paul Nicholls has favourite Irving (10/1). Quite a few of the key horses behind him haven’t run again, but those that have haven’t done much for the form. He’s a realistic contender but, given the number of unexposed types, (that are hard to judge because there are so few obviously strong formlines), he’s a skinny price on form.
The emerging power in the novice hurdling division is John Ferguson, who has an array of Godolphin cast-offs, (28 of his 37 winners this season have come from his novice hurdlers.) Fennell Bay (33/1) had 41 flat runs before hacking up in an ordinary maiden hurdle. I’m not keen on backing horses who’ve had so many hard runs on the flat as they often no longer have the stomach for top class contests. The one I fancy is actually not in the 55 quoted at 33/1 as Dubai Prince is 40/1. He won a 9f Group 3 on his last flat start in August 2012 and bolted up from a subsequent winner on his hurdling debut at Leicester. He pulled too hard and didn’t get home behind Almore Alato at Kempton on soft ground, and in that sense has a similar profile to Arcalis. He’s the type to be too big a price on the day if he lines up on a sound surface.
Having won both the Grades 1s at the trip in Ireland, the obvious one to back is The Tullow Tank (12/1). He’s got loads of talent but doesn’t look straightforward. He’s probably better going right handed and is a buzzy type so you’d be concerned the occasion might get to him at Cheltenham. After the Royal Bond the vibes were that he would contest the Neptune, but the Supreme seems to be the plan now. If he wins I’ll be kicking myself.
Willows Saviour (20/1) and Dell’ Arca (33/1) boast good form in open handicaps. Dell’ Arca won the Greatwood off 128 and was going nicely in the Ldabroke, off 136, when knocked over 3 out. Willows Saviour was an easy winner of that off 130 and both may head for the Betfair Hurdle. A typical Supreme winner is rated about 150 and I suspect neither are quite good enough.
Western Boy (20/1) was only beaten ¾l by Vautour at Punchestown on soft to heavy. Whilst that was by far his best run, he’s an improving type with form on a sound surface. By a predominantly flat-bred sire, its possible he could turn the tables in the Supreme on better ground. However, my gut feel was that everything went his way in the Moscow Flyer and if Vautour settles better in a strongly run Supreme, he’ll beat him further.
Amore Alato (33/1) looks underrated, having beaten subsequent dual scorer Heath Hunter at Wincanton and then a strong looking field in a novice at Kempton. He’d be tempting but Nick Williams seemed keen to exploit his handicap mark (135) and he’s entered in a handicap at the weekend, so there’s too much doubt about him lining up.
Dubawi Island (33/1) has won a couple of small races easily. He was a useful all-weather performer on the flat (rated 88) and has taken well to hurdles. He needs to improve a lot to win a Supreme but he’s with a good yard, (Venetia Williams,) and is another to watch in the interim.
However, the one to back is his hugely progressive stablemate Zamdy Man, (33/1). I was really taken with his attitude when beating Un Temps Pour Tout (25/1) 1¾l in the Grade 2 Rossington Main Hurdle, (won by Supreme winner Cinders And Ashes and Neptune scorer The New One in the previous 2 seasons.)
Heavy ground often accentuates distances between horses, but even so it was impressive the way the front two pulled miles clear of Meadowcroft Boy, (unbeaten in 2 bumpers and a 21l winner of his only hurdle) and Stand To Reason, (unbeaten in 2 hurdles and rated 93 on the flat,) both of whom had form on bad ground. Most of the focus was on 147 rated Un Temps Pour Tout, who cost £450,000 after finishing 7l 3rd to the now 159 rated Ptit Zig, in a Grade 1 in France. Many have just focussed on a mega-money purchase being beaten, but it might be he met a top-notch novice here.
Zamdy Man was apparently very weak during his juvenile campaign last season, but Aidan Coleman said “This year he’s strengthened up and is getting better with each race. He’ll definitely handle better ground and you’d have to say he’s a Cheltenham horse now.” He looks like 2 miles will suit ideally, (only win in 4 flat starts over 1 mile but stayed further,) so he’s unlikely to defect to the Neptune. His breeding and overall record suggests good to soft going will suit well.
I can’t understand why he’s such a big price and reckon he’s easily the best value in the field. It’s worth having a few quid on him now and then reassessing the race nearer the time.
1pt Zamdy Man to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle @ 33/1