The Insider: Supreme Novices'
The Insider picks out two ante-post selections for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.
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There will be plenty of horses that are still unfamiliar to us who will come out and stake their claim for a tilt at the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle over the forthcoming weeks but we can still hope to obtain a decent position at this early stage of the season.
West Wizard is the current favourite and it's usually worth keeping a close eye on the trainer's bumper winners at Kempton and the four year old was certainly impressive at the Sunbury-on-Thames track. He is already short enough as he's yet to jump a hurdle in public and Nicky Henderson has had a number of fancied runners turned over in the Supreme in recent seasons.
Briar Hill is next in the betting as he bids to follow in the steps of Champagne Fever who also landed the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the Festival before beating My Tent Or Yours in the Supreme.
If you are sweet on Briar Hill then he may not be the worst bet as the bookmakers are likely to keep him onside for all three Festival novices and Willie Mullins is unlikely to commit him to a particular race until declaration time.
He's out of a half-sister to Boston Bob, however, and I'd be surprised if he were to end up being campaigned over the minimum even if you do need stamina to win the Supreme.
The Champion Bumper at the preceding Festival is not, however, a bad place to start with Cinders And Ashes (fifth) and Al Ferof (second) completing a Supreme hat-trick of sorts and we'll return to last year's Festival as there are two runners that finished in midfield that appeal at this stage of the season.
First up is the beaten favourite, Le Vent D'Antan, who can be backed at 28/1. Trainer Liz Doyle knows exactly what it takes to win at the Festival having handled the likes of Cheltenian and Al Ferof in the formative stages of their careers.
Therefore, her good opinion of Le Vent D'Antan carries plenty of weight and, although it didn't happen for the four year old last March when he raced too keenly, it will be surprising if there isn't plenty more to come over hurdles this season.
His trainer certainly retains every faith, saying of his performance: "We were very pleased. He was bang there turning in and I would say with maybe a bit of weakness and one thing or another he didn't get up the hill as well as we might have hoped.
"He will strengthen up next year and hopefully he can be competitive at that level. He won't run again this year. He'll spend the next month not doing much work. We'll school him up and let him enjoy himself for a month.He'll do gentle work and we'll incorporate some schooling work so he will know his job when he comes back in during the summer."
Given his reputation last season and the fact that his owners and trainer were keen to target Cheltenham, it won't take long for his price to crash if he makes the expected start to his hurdling career.
The other horse that I think is worth siding with at this stage is Union Dues who finished one place behind in eighth.
Willie Mullins' runner was sent off at 9/1 (stablemate Briar Hill was 25/1) on the back of two impressive victories but he weakened into midfield having raced keenly, close to the pace (six of the first seven home all attracted the in-running comment 'held up').
Union Dues has had a run since and it was encouraging for his prospects of being effective at the minimum over hurdles as he ran out an impressive winner over a mile and a half in a Galway maiden, showing a taking turn of foot in the process.
He's a 25/1 chance at the moment which should enable us to take a position in the Spring should everything go according to plan in the interim.