Expect a Supreme 'tour de force
Sky Bet's Head racing compiler takes a look at the opening event at this year's Cheltenham Festival, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, with his thoughts on the leading horses.
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A useful horse on the flat in France/Germany before joining Paul Nicholls and he has done nothing but improve since then and is unbeaten in five starts since joining his current yard.
His latest victory was an impressive win in the Sky Bet Dovecote Hurdle at Kempton and he is the number one British hope to try and supplement the wins for his trainer in this race of Al Ferof and Noland.
The only slight doubts would be sometimes his hurdling leaves little margin for error and also his four hurdling wins have all been on right handed courses which may or may not be significant .
Champion Irish trainer Willie Mullins has won the Sky Bet Supreme three times and Vautour looks his leading contender to make it number four and is the likely ride of Ruby Walsh.
Unbeaten in his three starts for Mullins he was workmanlike at Punchestown beating Western Boy but he was much more impressive under a more prominent ride in the Grade 1 Deloitte Hurdle at Leopardstown beating the highly regarded The Tullow Tank.
He has been a superb jumper of his hurdles so far and another fluent round will see him hard to pass, just like Champagne Fever was last year for the same connections.
The second Mullins inmate and this one is also very highly regarded. Unbeaten in his last five races he showed an impressive turn of foot at Punchestown last time out to comfortably beat Lieutenant Colonel despite a couple of sloppy jumps.
He will need to hurdle better to win a Supreme but if he does he will be a big danger to all and his turn of foot could be potent if delivered at the right time.
A poor round of jumping at Kempton on Boxing day looked to have ended any Supreme hopes but an impressive Doncaster victory and some recent very good homework has caused a rethink and Nicky Henderson, who has had seven top four finishes in the last seven years, knows what's required for one to run well in this race.
It will be a big positive to the horses chance if the excellent Barry Geraghty chooses him over his stable mate Josses Hill.
The second Henderson runner comes here on the back of a narrow defeat in the Tolworth by stable mate Royal Boy. With the favourite for that contest, The Liquidator, not running his race that was perhaps not the strongest Grade 1 and he may well be discarded by Geraghty so a place may be the best he can hope for.
The Mullins third string and hard to know how good he is after two easy wins since joining his yard.
He hasn't beaten anything of note yet though and it is all about potential rather than proven form and the yard look to have two other stronger candidates.
Narrowly beaten by Vautour at Punchestown but had every chance there and even though there is a big price difference between the pair it will still be a surprise if he gains his revenge on that progressive rival.
Has been well backed recently and, if given the nod to run here instead of the County Hurdle, he will likely be the ride of the champ AP McCoy for his retained owner JP McManus.
He won the very competitive Boylesports Hurdle at Leopardstown off 128 and would now be running off 140 over here in the County. My Tent Or Yours went down the handicap route for the same owner last year but he was an impressive winner of the Betfair hurdle off 149 and still got beat here so Gilgamboa has a bit to find but will be a popular each-way selection given the connections and his price could well shorten between now and the off if given the go ahead to run.
SPLASH OF GINGE
Everything went well for him when winning the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury off a light weight with a good claimer taking 7lb off and I would say that was his big pay day and he's unlikely to follow up here.
WILDE BLUE YONDER
When was the last time you saw a Supreme winner that had form figures of FF next to his name? He has plenty of ability and may well have won his last four starts if he hadn't fallen on his last two. That's hardly the best preparation for the festival and it was a pretty heavy fall he look at the last at Ascot last time so he couldn't be backed with any confidence on the back of that.
Well regarded by trainer Kim Bailey and won well at Doncaster last time despite a stumble three out. Could run well at a big price but will still need some big improvement to even hit the frame on what we have seen so far.
Well beaten in the festival bumpers at both Cheltenham (when ridden by Richard Hughes) and Aintree last season. He has taken well to hurdling, including a win over the well regarded Henderson horse West Wizard at Kempton. The better the ground the better his chance as it appears soft ground is not for him but he would still need a personal best by some distance to win this .
The Sky Bet Supreme is statistically the best race at the festival for the Irish with twelve winners from the last twenty two years going back across the water and I like Vautour to improve on that record as long as the ground doesn't get too quick, which is unlikely on day one
He's an uncomplicated ride who jumps really well and will stay every yard and knows how to battle so he has all the attributes needed to win and can can get the meeting off to a flyer for the Walsh/Mullins combination.