Was the 2016 Sky Bet Supreme the best novice hurdle ever run in the UK?

Altior wins the 2016 Sky Bet Supreme with a host of future star names in behind
Altior wins the 2016 Sky Bet Supreme with a host of future star names in behind

A quiz question for you – when was the last time Altior started a race at odds against? No looking it up allowed, but I’ll give you a clue – he could be backed at odds of 4/1 and was second favourite to a Willie Mullins hotpot.

OK, I’ve made it too easy now haven’t I? Yes, it was the 2016 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle and since then, in six successful assignments, punters haven't able to back the son of High Chaparral at a bigger price than 3/10. The shortest he's been is 1/9.

He won’t be quite that prohibitively priced this weekend when, fresh from a wind operation, he makes a delayed seasonal reappearance in the Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury, but you can still expect Nicky Henderson’s two-mile chasing king to be a strong favourite in what is a prep ahead of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham next month.

As staggering as it may be, Altior will go to Prestbury Park as one of five realistic chances of Festival success to emerge from that 2016 Sky Bet Supreme, a race that surely holds strong claims of being the best novice hurdle ever staged.

Also gunning for glory next month will be Buveur D’air (Champion Hurdle), Supasundae (Stayers' Hurdle), Petit Mouchoir (Arkle) and Min, who is likely to clash with Altior again in the Champion Chase, the first time they have met since that epic two duel up the hill two years ago.

If we look at it in more detail no fewer than six of the 14 runners in the 2016 Festival opener have since won Grade Ones.

Starting with the winner himself, Altior has claimed top-level success three times, although that’s nothing compared to the exploits of stablemate Buveur D’air – third that day – who has racked up five in a run that has seen last season’s Stan James Champion Hurdle hero win all nine of his outings since.

You certainly wouldn’t be betting against him enhancing those figures further next month, either.

Second past the post was Min, who started the race 15/8 favourite and has since won twice at the highest level. He was a very impressive winner of the Coral Dublin Chase at the weekend, a race that was a Grade One contest in all but name.

Mullins' star is without doubt a better chaser than he was a hurdler and the rematch with Altior next month is a mouthwatering prospect.

Another winner at last weekend’s Irish jumps spectacular was Supasundae - seventh in the Sky Bet Supreme - who joined the Grade One club when lowering the colours of Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle.

Arguably the most improved of the class of 2016, he’s switched yards from Henry de Bromhead to Jessica Harrington since and after winning the Coral Cup last year, goes into this year’s Festival as a strong candidate for Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle glory.

That would be a very poignant success following the passing last year of his owners Ann and Alan Potts.

He may have lost Supasundae in the intervening years since the best novice hurdle of all time - but de Bromhead has gained another of the runners who has subsequently gained Grade One honours – Petit Mouchoir.

Under the care of Willie Mullins, back in the days when everything was rosy between the master of Closutton and the O’Learys, the grey came home eighth behind Altior at Cheltenham. He has since of course gone on to win both the Ryanair Hurdle and Irish Champion Hurdle last term, beating Footpad in the latter. He's the scalp he's looking to take again in next month's Racing Post Arkle.

So, we’ve touched upon five of those to gain subsequent top level victories but who was the sixth? A bit of a forgotten horse, but only one of two runners who had a Grade One win next to their names prior to the Supreme: Bellshill.

Winner of the Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas in January of that year, the Willie Mullins-trained son of King’s Theatre would taste success at the highest level again at the Punchestown Festival in April when getting the better of Coney Island over three miles.

Bellshill only beat one home in Altior's Sky Bet Supreme and it’s curious that the only horse trailing behind him was the other runner who had registered a top flight victory prior to the race - 2014 Champion Bumper hero Silver Concorde.

Frustrating for Dermot Weld over hurdles, he didn’t break his maiden tag over timber until this season when revitalised, albeit at a much lower level, by a switch to Keith Dalgleish.

Continuing the incredible roll call, fourth home was subsequent Grade Three winner Tombstone, while in ninth was Dan Skelton’s North Hill Harvey, a Grade Two winner this season at Cheltenham’s November meeting, a weekend he also enjoyed success at when winning the Greatwood Hurdle the previous campaign.

Then there’s Charbel, the Sky Bet Supreme fifth and a horse that even though he has no graded success to his name - yet - gave Altior one hell of a scare in last year’s Racing Post Arkle.

Who knows what would have happened had he not fallen when leading two from home, especially with the winner seemingly below his brilliant best that day.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, we even had an also-ran who in a fine career on the level had finished fifth to Treve in a Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Penglai Pavilion could only manage 12th at Cheltenham under the care of John Ferguson.

So, I challenge you to come up with a novice hurdle to match that.

The only race that comes close in my mind is the 2011 Sky Bet Supreme in which Al Ferof, Spirit Son, Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card filled the first four places, but outside of that quartet there wasn’t the same strength in depth.

The Henderson duo of Altior and Buveur D’Air could well join the greats over the coming years but while we may have settled the debate on the greatest novice hurdle, unless you can come up with one better, just think for a moment that both of them were beaten by Barters Hill back in 2015 in perhaps the best bumper ever run in the UK.

Well, that’s a discussion for another day.

Do you agree with Paul? Can you name a better novice hurdle than the 2016 Sky Bet Supreme? Let us know via email (racingfeedback@sportinglife.com), twitter (@sportinglife) or Facebook (@sportnglifeofficial)

You can read Paul's blog at https://nationalhuntwolo.wordpress.com/ and follow him on twitter @PaulWoloszyn

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