Betting Tip: @ Kalashnikov @ 9/2 with coral
1:30 2m½f (2m87y) (Old Course) Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) (Class 1) (4yo+)
Last year (horse – trainer – jockey – SP):
1. Labaik – G Elliott – J Kennedy – 25/1
2. Melon – W Mullins – R Walsh – 3/1JF
3. River Wylde – N Henderson – Nico de Boinville – 8/1
Nature of the race
The fact this is the first race of the festival has a bearing on the way it is run. The adrenaline of the jockeys (which can feed through to the horses), the huge roar that sends the runners on their way and a downhill stretch in the early stages all contribute to a strong pace. That favours those horses with a high cruising speed who can hold their position and it tends to be a relative test of stamina at the trip. Jumping is also at a premium as any mistakes are magnified.
Last year’s winner was a shock, but it tends to be won by a fancied horse most of the time, although not necessarily the favourite. In the last ten years, only one market leader – Douvan in 2015 – has come up with the goods, with every other winner starting at 7/2 or bigger. Always look for last-time-out winners (18 of the last 21 runnings) and don’t worry if they were beaten earlier in the season – that applies to seven of the last 11 winners.
It’s rare for second-season novices to turn up and in practice the only festival form on display is the Champion Bumper. That race has provided four winners this century with the quarter achieving finishing positions (most recent first) of 1-5-2-3. But as the Bumper is a real test of stamina and most winners need further over hurdles, those beaten in it who perhaps didn’t quite last home are more interesting. Last year’s third, Claimantakinforgan, looks the obvious contender this year.
Willie Mullins has won the race five times (from 36 runners) and has saddled at least one horse to finish in the first two in each of the last five renewals. Despite often being mob-handed, it has paid to stick with his first-string as in the last six renewals when he has saddled at least one horse at a single-figure price, the shortest in the market has always done best (by some way).
Best of the Irish
Mullins’ Getabird has been a short-priced favourite since making all to win a Grade 2 run over 2m at Punchestown in January, when his jumping was much improved from his hurdles debut (2m4f) at the same track in December. While that latter win sets the form vstandard and entitles him to favouritism, you could quibble that he got an easy lead on that occasion, the runner-up Mengli Khan (who was conceding 6lb and re-opposes) is quirky and the third needs 3m. Should Gordon Elliott decide to run winning-machine Samcro here instead of the Ballymore, for which he’s odds-on, we could see a new favourite and those punters fortunate enough to get on him at 14/1 with bet365 (NRNB) will be rubbing their hands.
Best of the home challenge
As the market suggests, Kalashnikov is the clear pick form Britain after his impressive Betfair Hurdle (2m, heavy) success. The five-year-old stayed on strongly to win by four-and-a-half lengths and, given that the second, third and fourth were well strung out, it’s hard to see it as anything but strong form, while his trainer Amy Murphy is adamant he wants a better surface. He’s going to be hard to kick out of the frame and it’s worth remembering that novices get Me Out Of Here and My Tent Or Yours both went close in the Supreme following Betfair Hurdle victory.
Others to consider
Summerville Boy had Kalashnikov four lengths away in second when winning the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January (2m, heavy) and he looks a big player if he can reproduce that on the likely better surface. But a more intriguing contender is Henry de Bromhead’s Paloma Blue. He was a fine third to Samcro last time, travelling like the second best horse having been much too keen early, and should be suited by a more searching gallop and better ground.
Best bookmaker offers
The bookies are clearly desperate to get you on board for the week and have come up with a raft of enticing offers for this opening skirmish, the pick of which may be Coral’s ‘free bet if your horse loses in the Supreme’, with the maximum return being £25. Other free bet offers include Betway’s ‘free bet [max. £10] if you lose the first or last race at Cheltenham each day’ and Ladbrokes’ ‘double your winnings [up to £50] as a free bet if your horse wins the Supreme’. Shop around!
Getabird is lightly-raced and unbeaten over hurdles, but it’s hard to ignore the poor record of short-priced favourites and KALASHNIKOV, whose form is arguably stronger, is preferred at this stage. Even better, we can back him at 9/2 with Coral safe in the knowledge we will get our money back (as a free bet) should he lose. That said, I wouldn’t blame anyone waiting until on the day – and the morning of the race in particular – as he will surely be a bigger price. I’m also going to suggest a few quid each-way on PALOMA BLUE at Boylesports’ 14/1, and he’s also worth getting with when the ‘without Getabird’ markets become available.
Betting Tip: @ Kalashnikov @ 9/2 with coral
All odds were correct at time of posting.