January 11, 2012 Leave a comment
Despite just nine weeks to go before the Cheltenham Festival, there is still enough time for trainers to establish the credentials of the intended runners. That said, one race that is becoming increasingly difficult to fathom is the ‘curtain raiser’, the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
The current 10/1 favourite is the Jessica Harrington trained, Irish raider, Steps To Freedom, whose win in the Grade 2 Sharp Novice Hurdle back in November marked him down as possibly the one to beat. However, the second horse in that race, Prospect Wells, who finished just a ½ length home ‘blotted his copy book’ last weekend when he trailed in a well beaten 4th in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle over 2m1f at Sandown. He finished 20 lengths adrift of the winner, Captain Conan, who was making his UK debut after joining the Nicky Henderson earlier this year and was also the same distance behind the Phillip Hobbs trained Colour Squadron who finished a short head down in second place.
On that form, both Captain Conan and Colour Squadron, who should both improve hugely for the run, should have the beating of Steps To Freedom. However, the bookmakers were clearly unimpressed by the outcome of the Tolworth and have installed Captain Conan and Colour Squadron only as 16/1 shots for the Supreme.
Second favourite in fact for the Festival’s opening race is the Dermot Weld trained and JP McManus owned Waaheb with odds of 12/1, but he has yet to be tested over hurdles having had his career to date confined to Bumpers given he has not run this season. He has won three of four Bumpers but until he is seen over hurdles then surely it would be unwise to back him antepost but stable confidence does seem to be high and it will be worth watching him.
Nicky Henderson also has a second and third ‘strings to his bow’ in the form of Darlan, a five year old who is unbeaten in one start in a ‘bumper’ last season and three over novice hurdles this term including a win at Taunton on Monday, the Seven Barrows yard also have the option to run Simonsig, second in a Grade 2 over 2m4f at Sandown Park last month. Darlan is also owned by JP McManus and this son of Milan looks to have plenty of potential but has yet to run in a graded race. He is a 12/1 chance for the race, the same price as Simonsig, who ran a great race when second behind Neptune Investment Management Hurdle favourite, Fingal Bay in that Sandown Grade 2.
Perhaps one horse to take serious note of is the Edward O’Grady trained, Cash And Go, winner last time out of the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle over 2 miles at Leopardstown over the Christmas period. That win followed two earlier wins this season in a 4YO Hurdle in November and a maiden Hurdle in October. He too is 16/1.
Galileo’s Choice, also a 16/1 shot and also trained by Dermot Weld was an eye-catching second behind the Willie Mullins trained Sous Les Cieux in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice hurdle at Fairyhouse at the beginning of December. However, before that he had won in a Group 3 on the flat over ten furlongs at Leopardstown. Sous Les Cieux however was unable frank that form or to further his ‘Supreme Hurdle’ prospects by finishing only third behind Cash And Go in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle. Nonetheless Galileo’s Choice is sure to improve and is one horse at least that is worth following as a potential Supreme Novice Hurdler as the build up Cheltenham gets underway in earnest.
As it stands, the 2012 Supreme Novices Hurdle doesn’t appear to offer a great deal of antepost opportunity and it’s probably best to wait until nearer the Festival starting or the day itself before deciding who to back.