Supreme start to fabulous Festival

  • By: Ben Linfoot and Ian Ogg
  • Last Updated: March 10 2014, 12:50 GMT

Ben Linfoot and Ian Ogg have everything you need to know about the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Irving: Favourite for this year's Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Irving: Favourite for this year's Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle


That roar. It's synonymous with the start of the Cheltenham Festival, 60,000 racegoers shouting their approval at the beginning of four magical days of entertainment in the Cotswolds.

This is the first year Sky Bet have sponsored the famous Festival opener, but the race has a long and rich history dating back to 1946 when Prince Rupert, Freetown and Gremlin won three divisions of the contest.

There was to be no Supreme the following year, but the spectacle returned in 1948 and the race was split into two divisions, a format that remained until 1972 (apart from '63, when it was split into three), when the race was turned into a single championship contest.

Famous winners include Flyingbolt (1963), a horse that went onto achieve stunning success in two-mile chases including the Queen Mother Champion Chase of '66, L'Escargot (1968), the subsequent dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in '70 & '71, Bula (1970), the subsequent dual Champion Hurdle winner in '71 & '72 and Golden Cygnet (1978), a horse that had the racing world at his feet until a fatal fall in the Scottish Champion Hurdle.

The traditional curtainraiser for four days of festival action, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle is for horses who had not won a race over timber at the season's start. Run over the same course and distance as the Champion Hurdle, as you can see from the horses mentioned above, it often offers a first indication as to who will be the jumping stars of the future.

Recent Renewals

The modern Supreme winner has frequently developed into a future champion too. Hors La Loi III (1999) went onto Champion Hurdle glory in 2002, while Brave Inca (2004) returned to Prestbury Park in 2006 to land the Champion Hurdle with dual winner Hardy Eustace back in third. In 2006, Sublimity was only fourth in the Supreme, but returned to Cheltenham a year later to win the Champion Hurdle.

You can watch replays here of every Supreme Novices' Hurdle since 2009, when Go Native got the better of Medermit by a neck in a thriller.

2009 - Go Native. Click here for video replay.

2010 - Menorah. Click here for video replay.

2011 - Al Ferof. Click here for video replay.

2012 - Cinders And Ashes. Click here for video replay.

2013 - Champagne Fever. Click here for video replay.

Watch videos of this season's Key Trials

The first key trial for the Sky Bet Supreme came at Cheltenham in November when The Liquidator saw off three rivals and there have been plenty more on both sides of the Irish Sea since then.

Vautour heads a strong Willie Mullins team and his wins at Navan, Punchestown and Leopardstown are worth revisiting here, while the Tolworth and the Dovecote look like being two of the more significant trials to have been run in Britain.

17/11/2013 Cheltenham - Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle: The Liquidator, Sea Lord, Lac Fontana.

25/11/2013 Kempton - 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle: Sgt Reckless.

07/12/2013 Navan - Kells Maiden Hurdle: Vautour, Lieutenant Colonel.

13/12/2013 Cheltenham - National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle: Garde La Victoire.

20/12/2013 Ascot - Kennel Gate Novices' Hurdle: Irving, Splash of Ginge.

21/12/2013 Navan - Christmas Novice Hurdle: Valseur Lido.

26/12/2013 Kempton - William Hill Novices' Hurdle: Fascino Rustico, Sgt Reckless, Vaniteux, Dubai Prince.

28/12/2013 Newbury - Betfred Introductory Hurdle: Stand To Reason, Wilde Blue Yonder.

11/01/2014 Kempton - Tolworth Hurdle: Josses Hill, Upazo, Garde La Victoire, The Liquidator.

11/01/2014 Punchestown - Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle: Vautour, Western Boy.

02/02/2014 Punchestown - E.B.F. Novice Hurdle: Wicklow Brave, Lieutenant Colonel.

08/02/2014 Newbury - Betfair Hurdle: Splash of Ginge, Dell' Arca, Cheltenian, Deep Trouble.

09/02/2014 Leopardstown - Deloitte Novice Hurdle: Vautour, The Tullow Tank, Quickpick Vic.

15/02/2014 Ascot - 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle: Mountain King, Wilde Blue Yonder.

22/02/2014 Kempton - Sky Bet Dovecote Novices' Hurdle: Irving, Cup Final, First Mohican, Germany Calling, Dubai Prince.

The Leading Contenders

Irving: Unbeaten in four starts over hurdles, Paul Nicholls' challenger was a brilliant winner of the Sky Bet Dovecote on his latest appearance at Kempton. That speed test is very different to the Supreme, though, but he's clearly a leading contender.

Vautour: Three from three over hurdles this season, Willie Mullins' charge was most impressive last time when landing the Grade One Deloitte at Leopardstown, with dual G1-winner The Tullow Tank in second. Viewed as a future star chaser by connections.

Wicklow Brave: Another one for Mullins who was a triple winner in the bumper sphere. Transferred that form to the hurdling game with two wins this season, most impressively last time when showing plenty of speed to win a Listed contest at Punchestown.

Vaniteux: Likeable win on debut for Nicky Henderson at Sandown in December when beating subsequent winner Vibrato Valtat. Well beaten (9/4 favourite) when jumping errors cost him in the novice hurdle won by Amore Alato at Kempton on Boxing Day. Impressive win over 2m3f since and reports of good work at home in recent weeks.

Josses Hill: Looked to be Henderson's first string for this but money for Vaniteux recently means he could go off the bigger price of the Seven Barrows pair. Beaten 22 lengths in a bumper by Faugheen at Punchestown, he has looked good in three starts for Henderson. Second in the Grade One Tolworth, rearranged at Kempton, to stablemate Royal Boy when travelling and jumping well.

Gilgamboa: Won valuable Hurdle at Leopardstown in January when defying a mark of 128 and will win connections another €100,000 if he lands a race at the Festival with the bonus from the race sponsors activated. Has plenty to find on that bare form but is an improver and will be worth a second look if he takes his chance (also entered in the County Hurdle).

Valseur Lido: Yet another one for You Know Who. Unbeaten in three starts and could be anything, obliging at 1/12 last time with minimum fuss.

Western Boy: Second behind Vautour last time when getting within three-quarters-of-a-length of the winner in the Moscow Flyer at Punchestown. Looked a possible winner jumping the last and with that form boosted since he's a player - wouldn't be too much of a surprise were he able to reverse that form at Cheltenham.

The Liquidator: Top-class bumper performer; finishing fourth in Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham Festival before winning the Grade One at Punchestown. Took to hurdling well and was a facile winner of Sky Bet Supreme Trial at Cheltenham in November, though lacklustre rivals made it an easy task. Flopped when fifth of sixth in the Tolworth, under pressure a long way from home. Kempton probably wouldn't suit, though, and he remains interesting.

Splash Of Ginge: Put in his place by Irving at Ascot in December and then well beaten by Deputy Dan when third in heavy ground at Warwick over 2m5f next time. Sent off at 33/1 for the Betfair Hurdle on the back of that, but saw off all challengers with a gutsy all the way success under talented claimer Ryan Hatch. That was off a mark of 134 and he'll have to improve again to feature here.

Supreme trends

Ian Ogg analyses the last 10 renewals of Tuesday's Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle and picks out the key statistics.

  • Winners have been aged five (4), six (5) and seven.
  • Winners have been priced between 7/2 and 40/1 with eight 12/1 or lower.
  • One favourite has been successful and the last nine have all lost.
  • Seven winners either led, tracked the leaders or raced in touch.
  • All the winners finished either first (8) or second on their previous start.
  • Winners had had between two and five runs in the current season.
  • Two winners were having their first run in graded company.
  • Eight winners raced in National Hunt Flat races with the two exceptions ex-Flat horses.
  • Nine winners had their preceding start after the turn of the year, the exception ran in November.

Looking forward to the race, a first sponsorship for Sky Bet at the Cheltenham Festival, Michael Shinners, Racing PR manager for the Leeds firm said: "Irving's potent turn of foot could be the decisive weapon at Cheltenham and he's clearly the top of the tree regarding the English-trained contenders.

"With Vautour leading the Irish challenge, we're all set for a mouthwatering battle for what promises to be a truly Supreme start to the Cheltenham Festival."

Our team's 1-2-3 Verdicts:

Michael Shinners: 1 Vautour, 2 Vaniteux, 3 Valseur Lido.

Dave Ord: 1 Wicklow Brave, 2 Irving, 3 Vaniteux.

Will Hayler: 1 Wicklow Brave, 2 Irving, 3 Wilde Blue Yonder.

Ben Linfoot: 1 Vaniteux, 2 Garde La Victoire, 3 Irving.

Ian Ogg: 1 Vautour, 2 Irving, 3 Josses Hill.

Matt Brocklebank: 1 The Liquidator, 2 Irving, 3 Josses Hill.

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