Ante-Post Preview of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Cheltenham Festival 2014 Tips – The curtain raiser of the Cheltenham Festival is the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, a race which this year looks wide open with the bookmakers betting 10/1 the field. Many of the leading contenders have entries in a variety of the novice hurdle events at the Festival so there should definitely be some value on offer thanks to the uncertainty surrounding those likely to turn up.
The market is currently headed by the German bred Irving (10/1 Coral) for leading trainer, Paul Nicholls. A very strong traveller with the ability to quicken, he has earned his place at the head of the market with an impeccable four wins from four runs since arriving from Germany. The Nicholls’ charge made a lasting impression recently at Ascot with Nick Schofield only having to nudge him along to quicken well going away at the line. His jumping, while sketchy at a couple on his last outing, is broadly fluent and not a cause for concern. He beat two good qualities horses in the form of Volnay De Thaix (33/1 Betfred) and Prince Siegfried (66/1 Stan James). The former is a horse who had won a relatively easy assignment at Newbury at odds of 1/14 and will be, in all likelihood, kept over the minimum trip, whilst the latter is an ex-flat performer of John Ferguson’s who sets a good standard.
While Nicholls may have the market leader, Nicky henderson will be looking to break his duck in the race. The recent Tolworth 1-2 for the trainer has put both Josses Hill (14/1 bet365) and Royal Boy (20/1 Stan James) in the shakeup for the contest. In the same breath, the Tolworth was a bitter disappointment for The Liquidator (25/1 bet365) who conceded his first loss over hurdles and could only manage fifth. David Pipe’s charge still merits respect despite the result as many feel that the run was too poor to be true. The Liquidator’s main aim is still Cheltenham and, as he isn’t short of speed nor does he seem likely to be upped in trip, he could well be the forgotten horse come March.
Another Henderson challenger could be West Wizard (20/1 Stan James) who is still something of an unknown quantity. The one time favourite for this race should not be too readily discounted as he was reportedly not ready when he was beaten last time out at Kempton. Like many from Seven Barrows he seemed to desperately need his first run and could well come on well for it. Prior to first appearance this season, he beat The Skyfarmer in a bumper by 8 lengths at Kempton in March. That form has been franked with the second horse following up with no less than four victories since his defeat to West Wizard.
The Skyfarmer (25/1 Betfred) is an interesting contender himself and recent addition to the market after proving his aptitude in handicap company over course and a slightly longer distance at Cheltenham. Moreover, the second horse from that handicap hurdle, Lyvius, went on to win a handicap off a mark of 132. That form reads well and, if he continues to progress, he has a solid chance and could prove to be the value bet.
While the English contingent warrant respect, the strongest challengers arguably reside in Ireland. The difficulty however lies in identifying which ones are likely to contest the race. Willie Mullins’s has a powerful sting with the likes of Faugheen and Moyle Park likelier types for the Neptune Novices Hurdle, while Briar Hill will possibly go of the Albert Bartlett. In terms of the Supreme, VAUTOUR (10/1 Betfred) has emerged in recent weeks as a credible favourite with the requisite speed needed to win this prize. He was shortened promptly after pulling 11 lengths clear with Pat Fahy’s Western Boy in a novice hurdle at Punchestown. That’s impressive form as the horse back in third was rated 132 over hurdles.
Stablemate, Valseur Lido (25/1 Coral) is a remarkably difficult horse to assess as Davy Russell just ushered him over the line in a novice hurdle at Navan over 2 miles. The Mullin’s contenders are quite unexposed as racing goes, last year’s winner for the stable, Champagne fever, raced 8 times prior to going Cheltenham and tellingly had course form from the Champion Bumper the year earlier, just to add context, Vautor has had just three starts.
One of the more heavily raced candidates from Ireland is The Tullow Tank (12/1 Coral). A Grade One winner in the Royal Bond the same horse that finished 11 lengths behind behind Vautor and Western Boy (Mr Fiftyone) at Punchestown finished 13 lengths behind the Tullow Tank in his recent Leopardstown victory. The progress has not relented as he then went on to claim the scalp of Moyle Park. It could be touch and go as to whether he contests the Supreme or the Neptune as the ground will dictate where he is sent, if its soft side of good the Supreme may be the preference.
While there are still unknown quantities in the betting it is probably best to side with a horse that has shown good form over the distance and the requisite speed and toughness to win a race of this caliber. The Irish have a great record in this race so VAUTOUR gets the nod.
VAUTOUR (E/W) (10/1 Betfred)
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