Darren Goodbody previews the Supreme Novices Hurdle
On average we will see 50,000 visitors a day at Prestbury Park for the 2017 Festival. I have been a keen goer to this meeting over the past decade plus but sadly I did not get to see Douvan in the flesh winning this prestigious contest. I have though been very much privileged to see the likes of Champagne Fever, Vautour, Al Ferof, Menorah and my very first visit all those years ago when Brave Inca landed the race. Nothing comes close to hear that Cheltenham roar around the whole of the Gloucestershire hills when the tape goes up to start the most prestigious National Hunt meeting in the world.
Every year we see old champions renewing their challenge, mainly in different races taking on the new breed. The Supreme is run over an extended two miles, a blistering pace is usually set and the top jockeys compete. Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins have won this race four of the past six renewals and this year no doubt they will come with all guns blazing. So who has the mighty Irish champion trainer got up his sleeve this year?
At the head of the market is the Mullins’ trained Melon. The son of Medicean was trained in France by Neil Clement and made his debut for the County Carlow trainer at Leopardstown, he eased to the front and never looked back when putting ten lengths between him and the runner up Broken Soul, who has been beaten again by a similar margin at Navan. The Supreme looks the likely route for Melon over his other declaration in the Neptune. I am not convinced his flat form in France was anything to write home about, is he a worthy favourite for the Supreme? Based on the record of the trainer and no doubt will be partnered by Walsh so he has to be taken very seriously but I think will be put in his place.
Another at the head of the market is David Pipe’s Moon Racer. It’s been a relatively quiet season by the Pipe’s standards this season, but he can never be discounted when he sends a live contender to this meeting. The 2015 Champion Bumper winner (he had Yanworth back in fourth on that occasion) was sadly struck down with injury which made him miss the 2016 Supreme Hurdle, a race I think he would have won. He has had two runs this season and looked better than ever when winning the Supreme trial here back in November, beating last years Bumper winner Ballyandy by just over three lengths.
Ballyandy has since finished runner up in the Neptune Novices Hurdle at Sandown, behind Messire Des Obeaux who went on to win the Challow Novices Newbury but was surprisingly beaten when he had to settle for second behind Warren Greatrex’s Keepers Hill in the Stoney Banks Novices Hurdle. I do have strong reservations about how strong that trial really was, I agree that Ballyandy is no slouch he has proven that, but to come back into this grade and beat proven top novices is not going to be that easy.
Nicky Henderson won this last year with Altior and he looks like he has a staying type on his hands with recent Dovecote Novices Hurdle winner River Wylde. I was quite taken with the way he traveled into the race under Nico De Boinville and never looked like he would be beaten by runner up Elgin, who again put in a good shift. River Wylde has taken to hurdles like a duck to water, he is now 3-3 and comes to Cheltenham with a live chance and makes a lot of appeal in the betting market at 14/1.
There has been a lot of money around for Nicky Henderson’s other runner Charli Parcs, he was travelling well under Barry Geraghty when falling in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton recently. There can be no mistakes and no hiding places around Cheltenham, any chinks in your armour will find you out. He would have probably stretched his unbeaten run coming into this, but although it was a setback Henderson still seemed very bullish about him. Another that has to come into the equation is Finian’s Oscar who I am very sweet on for trainer Colin Tizzard.
He has been well supported in the market around 10/1 and the unbeaten son of Oscar won the Listed 188Bet Novices Hurdle at Exeter in fine style by four and a half lengths. He won the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle in fine style at the beginning of the year by five lengths, beating Capitaine who was very disappointing in the recent Dovecote Novices Hurdle last weekend, but it was a strong race won by River Wylde, and if I was going on that form I would have to dismiss him out of hand despite positives in the market.
Mullins has two others that make a lot of appeal, Saturnas and Bunk Off Early. The former is a horse I put up to follow at the beginning of the year, he was seen winning the Grade 1 Future Champions Hurdle at Leopardstown at the Christmas festival but his prep run was just too bad to be true when finishing last of ten in the Deloitte Novices Hurdle at Leopardstown behind stable companions Bacardy’s and Bunk Off Early who finished 1-2. My concern is that Saturnas’s Grade 1 win cannot be taken too seriously with Brelade reversing the form so quickly. This brings me on to Bunk Off Early,
Ruby Walsh will probably be on Melon but it will be interesting to see if Paul Townend will stay loyal to Bunk Off Early or we will see Patrick come in for the ride. He was trained on the flat by Andrew Oliver and was seen picking up a 11k race at Cork at the back end of 2015, with a flat rating of 77 there was a lot of work to do with and you had to question why the Supreme Racing Club sealed the deal for Mullins to train the son of Zebedee. It didn’t take long to find out, on Boxing day he made his hurdles debut and beat a big field of twenty four in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown by a commanding five and a half lengths.He was put straight into Grade 1 company to see what they had, and did himself justice when runner up to Bacardy’s in the Deloitte Novices Hurdle.
Next we move on to Neon Wolf and my big selection and NAP for this, BALLYANDY. Neon Wolf has been another that has impressed this season, coming into this unbeaten, his win in the Grade 2 Rossington Main Novices Hurdle at Haydock saw him thrash Elgin by a comfortable nine lengths, as we know Elgin has run well again when beaten by River Wylde. I cannnot see him as the winner of this race, I am sure Harry Fry would disagree with me as many other punters will, but I actually feel this horse will not have the speed in a fiercely run race, as this is likely to be.
So this brings me on to my nap of the day in Ballyandy, his Champion Bumper win here last year was one of the gutsiest of rides by Sam Twiston-Davies I have witnessed in a long time. He showed true grit and his battling qualities I feel will win the day here. He never travelled like a winner at Aintree, but lets not take anything away from him he was finishing behind the likes of Barcardy’s and Battleford. He has taken more time than I would have liked to see him win over hurdles,
He was beaten by Moon Racer at Exeter on his debut by three parts of a length with the pair twenty lengths ahead of the rest. He returned again to Cheltenham to be beaten once more by Moon Racer in the Supreme Trial, this time Moon Racer had definitely improved, putting three lengths between them this time. It was now becoming frustrating for Ballyandy fans and he then bumped into an in-form Messire Des Obeaux in the Grade 2 NIM Novices Hurdle at Sandown Park, he battled tenaciously all the way to the line to be defeated by half a length when in receipt of 7lb from the winner. That started to concern me, getting that weight he really should have won that day.
He got his just reward though when winning the Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle when beating Movewiththetimes who travelled really powerfully in the race and looked like he was going to pick off Ballyandy but again the Twiston-Davies trained horse battled and battled, pulling out more at the finish to record his first win over hurdles. The thing with Ballyandy is that he wants a fight, he needs to be pressured into a dog fight to the line. I am a big fan of Kayf Tara progeny at the festival, they never give up. His battling qualities are why I make him my nap of the day, his fighting spirit proves he has a big heart and a big win may be just around the corner.
BALLYANDY : 2pt Win @ 5/1 Non-runner No Bet (general)