Matt Tombs of bettrends.co.uk and the Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide looks at the big players in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
The Major Players is an online service provided by bettrends.co.uk, and is written by Matt Tombs, author of the Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide.
The chances of the key contenders for 14 of the main Festival races are scrutinised by Matt, and are updated on two occasions in the run-up to Cheltenham to provide you with the most up-to-date and accurate analysis.
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Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Predictability Factor = 83.8 (13th-highest at the Festival)
Freshnessometer = 11.2 (10th-lowest at the Festival)
The Freshnessometer explained
The concept is to illustrate the advantage of either (a) being fresh or (b) being busy in a specific race. I.e. in some races the profile of the winners this century suggests (a) is an advantage and in others (b) is an advantage (and some where it doesn't seem to matter).
We therefore have an indicative process for showing how fresh/busy the winners have been. This involves dividing the number of days since horse last ran by total runs that season. The higher the number, the fresher. The lower, the busier.
The idea is firstly that you can quickly see whether it's a comparative advantage (based on this century’s winners) to have been busy or fresh in that race.
Throughout The Major Players we go a step further and have a rating for each horse so you can then look at how fresh/busy a horse is and see whether it fits the profile of a typical winner of that race.
Getabird (Ire) – Current Sky Bet odds 6/4
6-y-o Getaway – Fern Bird (Revoque) | Willie Mullins (Ire) | Cheltenham Form none | Official Rating 152
Getabird was ante-post favourite for the Bumper last season until losing his action on the gallops one morning and being roughed off for the season. He apparently has poor confirmation, particularly in front, and hasn’t therefore been hard-trained. You can look at that either way. It’s a risk from an ante-post perspective – he may not stand up to training when more buttons are pushed at home in the run-up to the Festival. The flip side is that if he does, he may have more scope for improvement than most of his rivals. In that sense he may well be one to hold fire on from a betting point of view and follow the vibes as the meeting approaches (it’s hard to see him being shorter on the morning of the race).
He’s run twice over hurdles, winning both races easily. His maiden was over 2m4f on heavy ground and he’d been seen as a stayer. However, he was then dropped to 2m for the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer (a race Willie often runs his Supreme A-Teamer in). Fears that he wouldn’t have the basic pace proved wide of the mark, as he jumped well and sprinted clear of Royal Bond winner Mengli Khan (who conceded 6lb) to win by 9l. That was on soft-to-heavy ground, but he has bumper and point form on a sound surface.
It’s worth noting that Gordon Elliott was disappointed that Mengli Khan didn’t finish further ahead of Carter McKay (4½l behind Mengli Khan) and High School Days (7¾l behind Mengli Khan). It’s quite possible the Royal Bond winner was below par in the Moscow Flyer and the form is less strong than it might look.
Apart from his fragility, another key concern about Getabird is the fact that he’s only raced right-handed under Rules so far. To my eye he hasn’t looked as if going left-handed will be a problem and normally it would be a pretty small question mark (given how lightly raced many novice hurdlers are coming to the Festival, it’s not that unusual). However, he did run out going left-handed in a point, which raises a bit more of a question mark. The last 9 winners have had 544544445 runs over hurdles. Much was made last year of Melon coming to this off 1 run in a maiden, but Getabird is light on experience, too, after just 2 hurdles runs.
We’ve been used to a Mullins Supreme hotpot heading the ante-post lists from fairly early on the season. Vautour, Douvan, Min & Melon finished 1122 in the Supreme. This year feels different, especially when compared to Vautour, Douvan & Min. The early vibes were that Annamix and Sayar were the Supreme horses but both got injured. At that stage Getabird was seen as more of a stayer. That doesn’t mean he can’t win – Champagne Fever was going for the Albert Bartlett a week before winning the Supreme. However, it does feel a bit of a ‘round peg, square hole’ scenario. Quite whether he’ll have the tactical speed to travel through the race isn’t certain and at this stage I’d be happy to take him on at a short price.
Freshnessometer reading = 29.5
Kalashnikov (Ire) – Current Sky Bet odds 11/2
5-y-o Kalanisi – Fairy Lane (Old Vic) | Amy Murphy | Cheltenham Form none | Official Rating 154
Every new trainer needs a good horse to give their career lift-off. Amy Murphy is basically training family-owned horses at the moment but already has a couple of good ones in useful handicap chaser Mercian Prince and, in particular, stable star Kalashnikov. She looks to be doing everything right with them so far and if Kalashnikov can win the Supreme it would be a major boost as she looks to expand her training operation.
A bumper winner on his sole start last season, Kalashnikov is 3/4 over hurdles this season. He began with a pair of 10l wins at Wetherby (2m, soft) and Doncaster (2m½f, good-to-soft). He’d looked visually quite impressive in those 2 starts and the Grade 1 Tolworth (2m, heavy) looked the right race to find out more about him.
The British trainers don’t focus on the domestic Grade 1 novice events during the winter in the way the Irish trainers do and it’s often hard to get a handle on Tolworth form. There didn’t look any obvious superstars beforehand, given it’s the sole British Grade 1 trial for the Supreme. However, as is sometimes the case, the form looks better later in the season.
Kalashnikov looked in trouble, but stuck on well to finish 4l 2nd to Summerville Boy – for all he never really threatened the winner. At the time, Amy Murphy suggested he’d go straight to the Ballymore and given he’d looked a bit short of tactical pace, that looked logical.
However, he turned up in the Betfair Hurdle off 141 (2m½f soft). He again looked short of tactical speed but stayed on strongly and was well in command at the line, 4½l clear of Bleu Et Rouge with another 8l back to the 3rd. His breeding shouts out that he’d prefer better ground and with Betfair Hurdle winners having a good each-way record in the Supreme, he looks a contender. That said, they usually go a strong gallop and if he doesn’t have the basic toe to hold a position, he’ll find it a lot harder to make up the ground than at Newbury.
Freshnessometer reading = 7.8
Mengli Khan (Ire) – Current Sky Bet odds 12/1
5-y-o Lope De Vega – Danielle (Danehill) | Gordon Elliott (Ire) | Cheltenham Form none | Official Rating 148
Experience over hurdles has proved crucial in recent Supremes, with the last 9 winners having all run at least 4 times over flights. As a 2nd-season novice, Mengli Khan has experience in spades and he looked to be putting that to good use in the autumn when rattling up a hat-trick.
He’s bred to want decent ground and duly won his maiden in September at Navan (yielding). That was really late-summer form but he was taking on better horses when he lined up in the Grade 3 For Auction at the same track in mid-November. Stratum had a decent reputation with Willie Mullins and he brushed him aside easily by 4l. The runner-up hasn’t been seen since, so the form wasn’t easy to assess.
However, we got a much better idea about him when he bolted up in the Grade 1 Royal Bond, beating Early Doors by 5½l, with a long gap back to the remainder (2m, soft). That vaulted him to the front of the ante-post market for the Supreme and, having shown he handled soft ground at Fairyhouse, he was an even-money favourite for the next 2m Grade 1, the Future Champions at Leopardstown at Christmas.
In a race full of drama, he was about a length up and still going well enough when running out through the wing 2 out. Clearly that left a question mark over his temperament, but he was back on the track a couple of weeks later in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer at Punchestown (2m, soft-to-heavy), where he had to concede a 6lb penalty for his Royal Bond win.
He was no match for Getabird there, going down by 9l. As mentioned, Gordon was disappointed the 3rd & 4th (the latter also owned by Gigginstown, albeit not trained by Gordon) got so close to Mengli Khan. His Supreme case isn’t as hopeless as it may first appear if you were watching the Moscow Flyer. Getabird is favourite but has to prove he goes left-handed (and the ground is likely to be much quicker when they re-oppose). Mengli Khan does go left-handed on good ground and with a 6lb pull he probably doesn’t have as much to find as is perceived.
He’s clearly a risky betting proposition now and, in stark contrast to most of his main rivals, his best days may be behind him. However, he’s run in 7 hurdles and 7 Flat races, so he has stacks of experience and when he’s been on a going day he’s jumped and travelled. He’s nothing like as quirky as Labaik, Gordon’s winner last year, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see him finish first in the Supreme. Or last.
Freshnessometer reading = 11.8
Summerville Boy (Ire) – Current Sky Bet odds 11/1
6-y-o Sandmason – Suny House (Carroll House) | Tom George | Cheltenham Form 23 | Official Rating 150
Summerville Boy only made his racecourse debut in the early weeks of this season, in a bumper at Killarney. He’d clearly been showing something at home and was backed from 50/1 into 7/2, landing the punt in good style.
Sold for £130,000, he joined Tom George and didn’t look a Grade 1 horse in his early starts. Edged out by the useful Mr One More on his hurdling debut at Stratford, he then contested 2 races at Cheltenham. The first was the Grade 2 Sharp, where he was ¾l 2nd to Slate House. Hurdles were omitted and there was a lengthy Flat race at the end, so quite what the form is worth isn’t clear.
They didn’t go a great gallop in the Sharp and went steadily again in a Class 3 novice at the same track in December (2m1f, soft) – and he finished 5¾l 3rd to Western Ryder. The lack of pace didn’t seem to show Summerville Boy to best effect, especially in light of subsequent events in the Grade 1 Tolworth (2m).
As is often the case, the ground was heavy for the Tolworth but they went a good gallop in the conditions and that seemed to show Summerville Boy in a much-improved light. He travelled really well and looked a class above Kalashnikov, winning by 4l. It might have been further but for a mistake at the last and he’s been far from a fluent jumper so far.
He was generally better in the Tolworth but there has to be a concern about whether his jumping technique would stand up in the Supreme. Whilst the steadily run race may well have been the reason, he didn’t show his true ability in his previous 2 runs, and has to show he can act at Cheltenham.
There are, therefore, question marks against him. It’s possible that Kalshnikov under-performed in the Tolworth and/or improved out of all recognition in the Betfair. However, if you look at the bare form of the Tolworth it’s hard to reconcile the prices of the 2 horses. If Summerville Boy wins the Supreme it’ll look very obvious afterwards and there will be plenty of head scratching about how such juicy prices were missed.
Freshnessometer reading = 13.2
Claimantakinforgan (Fr) – Current Sky Bet odds 10/1
6-y-o Great Pretender – Taquine D’Estrees (Take Risks) | Nicky Henderson | Cheltenham Form 3- | Official Rating 144
Claimantakinforgan was given an unusually busy season in bumpers by Nicky Henderson’s standards, especially as he’d already contested 2 points. He won at Haydock (heavy) before running in a Listed event at Ascot (good-to-soft), where he was a fair 11l 6th to Western Ryder. He came up against another talented opponent next time when 2¼l 2nd to Black Op (to whom he was conceding 7lb) at Doncaster (good).
Nicky isn’t a big fan of the Champion Bumper but thought Claimantakinforgan was streetwise enough to take his chance and he ran a blinder to be 2¾l 3rd to Fayonagh. He completed a busy season when 3½l 5th to Lalor in the Grade 2 equivalent at Aintree.
That all meant he was one of the more experienced non-ex-Flat horses starting over hurdles this autumn. He wasn’t overly impressive on his hurdling debut at 30/100 in early November at Newbury, but he wasn’t asked for much and Nicky’s often badly need the run at that stage.
He was definitely workmanlike when stepping up in class to win the Grade 2 Kennel Gate at Ascot from 16/1 shot Dr Des by 2¼l (soft). He wasn’t the easiest to assess, as he’d been winning without shouting out that he had star quality. He was sent to Musselburgh for his final prep but was turned over at odds-on on soft ground.
If he lines up in the Supreme, he’ll arrive as a bit of an enigma. It may be that a fast-run race on good ground will show him in a much better light. The vibes are that it may well do, so you couldn’t discount him – but he does need to improve.
Freshnessometer reading = 12.3
Paloma Blue (Ire) – Current Sky Bet odds 14/1
6-y-o Stowaway – Court Leader (Supreme Leader) | Henry De Bromhead (Ire) | Cheltenham Form none | Official Rating 141
Paloma Blue caught the eye on his 2nd bumper start. Having won despite looking green, he lined up in the Grade 1 bumper at the Punchestown Festival. Fayonagh had sacred most of the opposition off and only 6 took her on, Paloma Blue doing best when beaten 5½l.
That left him looking an obvious prospect for the better novice hurdles this season but he was a shade disappointing early on. He began in what looked a hot maiden at Naas in November (2m3f, soft to heavy), where he went off 7/4f but was only 14l 3rd to the impressive Next Destination.
The other beaten horses hadn’t all gone on as might have been expected, but he still seemed to face a simple task at Punchestown (soft-to-heavy) next time but got turned over at 4/11. He was back on better ground next time (yielding) when a cosy 2l winner of a maiden at Leopardstown at Christmas.
He then took on Samcro in the Grade 1 Deloitte (2m, soft) and whilst he was no match for the Ballymore hotpot, he ran a fine race to be 9¼l 3rd, only losing 2nd spot to the strong stayer Duc Des Genievres on the run-in. When there is an outstanding horse in a division, as Samcro may be, the horses that that star easily beats can get underrated in the context of that division. Punters tend to look for alternative form lines.
It may therefore be that Paloma Blue is a fast-improving horse and assuming the 2 that beat him in the Deloitte don’t line up in the Supreme, he could be bringing stronger 2m form to the table than some would appreciate. In that sense there is some parallel with Go Native, the winner 9 years ago. He’d been thrashed 10l by Hurricane Fly in the Grade 1 Future Champions but won the Supreme when Hurricane Fly didn’t line up.
Paloma Blue has been a bit keen and shapes as if a strongly run race on better ground will help. He has each-way prospects.
Freshnessometer reading = 9.3
Sharjah (Fr) – Current Sky Bet odds 16/1
5-y-o Doctor Dino – Saaryeh (Royal Academy) | Willie Mullins (Ire) | Cheltenham Form none | Official Rating - |
There was bold talk from Patrick Mullins about Sharjah in the run-up to the clash with Samcro in the Deloitte. Patrick said that no horse should be odds-on against Sharjah in a novice hurdle. To be fair to Patrick, Sharjah was a Grade 1 winner in all but name, having looked set to hose up in the Future Champions when putting him on the floor at the last.
Prior to that, Sharjah had shown a good aptitude for hurdling after a couple of seasons (8 starts) on the Flat, where he’d earned an RPR of 99 on his last start in France (1m4f, good). He’s run on soft or heavy on his 4 hurdles starts. He won the first 2 of those (ordinary events both at Gowran) with a minimum of fuss.
He’d looked well worth a shot at a Grade 1 and was an unlucky loser in the Future Champions. That said, I was surprised at how bullish Patrick was before the Deloitte. He flopped there behind horses he was readily accounting for on similar ground over course and distance in the Future Champions, trailing in 14¼l 7th.
He needs to bounce back from that poor run, and it’s rare for the winner of the Supreme to arrive off a stinker. However, the rest of his form puts him in the mix and the vibes are well worth listening out for in the run-up to the Festival. (Like Getabird he’s owned by the Riccis, so whether they take each other on is questionable.)
Freshnessometer reading = 9.3
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