Fire one Bullet at the Supreme
Ben Linfoot with his ante-post preview of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.
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There's less than five weeks to go until the start of the Cheltenham Festival and the spine-tingling roar that greets the tape going up for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the latest race under our ante-post spotlight.
Jezki heads the betting after notching up four wins in Ireland over the winter, especially impressing on his latest outing when he was eased down in the closing stages of his Grade One win at Leopardstown.
JP McManus had the runner-up that day, Waaheb, and the millionaire owner was impressed enough to purchase Jezki who adds further strength to his Supreme claims that were already pretty solid thanks to the form shown by My Tent Or Yours.
He could further enhance his claims for the Festival opener in the Betfair Hurdle this weekend and McManus could well emulate his 2008 one-two in the race when Binocular chased home Captain Cee Bee.
Both horses look sure to run well but are passed over purely on a value basis as at 7/2 and 10/1 respectively, Jezki and My Tent Or Yours look short enough.
The most impressive horses visually this season, Jezki aside, in the running for the Supreme Novices' have been Un Atout and Puffin Billy to my mind and it's of no surprise to see the former priced up at 7/1.
The former is seemingly Willie Mullins' number one hope for the Supreme, which tells you everything about his chances given the battalion of novice hurdlers the Irish handler has at his disposal.
The Gigginstown Stud-owned horse has plenty of potential, but 7/1 is skinny enough considering he only won an ordinary novice hurdle, albeit very easily, last time at Naas.
Puffin Billy, a horse that has simply oozed class in wins at Ascot and Newbury this season, looks a good price at 12s and I would back him if I was sure he would definitely run in the race.
The problem is, Oliver Sherwood doesn't seem to have made his mind up regarding his Cheltenham target and as he keeps describing him as a horse that will get further than two miles I can't help but think the Neptune is still very much a possibility.
So, while JP McManus will be firing more than one bullet at the Supreme and Sherwood could be aiming his at another race, I shall be relying on DODGING BULLETS who looks overpriced with Ladbrokes at 14/1.
You could argue that Un Atout, River Maigue and My Tent Or Yours are all slightly shorter than they might be because of their connections but it is surprising that Paul Nicholls' main Supreme hope has been underestimated considering the level of form he's shown this season.
But at 14/1 that's exactly what he has been as his wins at Cheltenham and his third behind the ill-fated Darlan in the Christmas Hurdle represent a package of form that no other horse in the Supreme can match.
Perhaps it's because he hasn't cantered all over his rivals like some of the horses mentioned and I must admit I wasn't convinced by him after his first win at Cheltenham this season.
He was niggled along there just after the halfway point before settling the issue with a commanding finishing effort but I was much more impressed with him next time.
I liked the way he quickened from the front - he brushed River Maigue aside fairly easily despite giving him 7lb, and Nicky Henderson's charge franked the form with a bloodless win over New Year's Eve at Kempton next time.
Why River Maigue is four points shorter than Dodging Bullets in the betting is unclear. Perhaps his third behind Darlan in the Christmas Hurdle has been underestimated but I'm not sure it should be.
He won't have been particularly suited by the dawdling pace or the heavy ground but he split 155 and 158 horses in Raya Star and Countrywide Flame on Boxing Day and the handicapper decided that he's worthy of a mark of 156 following the run.
That sort of rating would win most Supreme Novices' and while it's shaping up to be a competitive and high-quality renewal 14/1 looks too big relative to his chances.
You have to think Ruby Walsh will take his place in the saddle as Davy Russell is likely to be on Gigginstown's Un Atout and the Nicholls-Walsh factor alone will see his odds contract.
Nicholls described him as the forgotten horse of the race recently and he's right. He also reported that he's very well and should go straight to the Festival though the Dovecote at Kempton would be considered as a prep run.
Whether he turns up at Cheltenham fresh or with another run under his belt he looks sure to go off a shorter odds than 14s and that seems only right considering his high level of form.