Before Labaik’s shock win last year, 6 of the last 7 winners of the Supreme Novices Hurdle had come from the top four in the betting market. For this reason, it might be helpful to cast an eye over those horses this year…
The Race Itself
Of the three grade one novice hurdle events at the festival, the Supreme definitely attracts the most attention and hype. In fact, in terms of general interest from punters, the Supreme probably exceeds the majority of grade one contests at the festival, with the exception of a couple of Championship races.
It’s not difficult to see why – the Supreme represents the beginning of the four-day bonanza of racing, with the iconic roar rising above Prestbury Park as the tapes go up and the cream of the crop of two-mile novice hurdlers take each other on.
The hype certainly isn’t unfounded. A quick glance at the list of recent winners tells us all we need to know about the class of the race. 2016 winner Altior will go off favourite in the Champion Chase this year, as 2015 winner Douvan did last year. 2014 winner Vautour went on to win at the festival the next two years, in the JLT and the Ryanair Chase. This year’s field really could contain anything – future Champion Chasers, future Champion Hurdlers, even Gold Cup winners.
There is a perception that the 2018 renewal of the race isn’t the strongest ever. True, the most impressive novice hurdler of the season is undoubtedly Samcro, who will run in the Ballymore over 2m 5f rather than running here. I would be reluctant to think that the race is weak this year, though. There are undoubtedly horses in the field who will make an impact next year in open grade one hurdle company, as well as over fences. However, it is an open renewal.
Since Champagne Fever’s win in 2013, Willie Mullins has come into the race each year with one horse which has looked massively impressive. In 2014 and 2015, these horses showed their class and won in style. In 2016, Min was the main hope of the Mullins yard – however, he was beaten by an extremely talented English horse, Nicky Henderson’s Altior. Last year, Melon represented Mullins but had a lot more to prove than previous stable first-string heading into the race, having only run once over hurdles in Ireland. He was beaten by a quirky but talented Gordon Elliott outsider in Labaik.
This year, Mullins trains the ante-post favourite yet again. Getabird looked like more of a Ballymore contender at the beginning of the season, particularly with stablemate Sharjah rumoured to be the yard’s best 2 mile novice hurdler. However, following an easy maiden hurdle win at Punchestown in December, he secured his place at the top of the Supreme market with the most impressive display of the division this season when winning the Moscow Flyer Novices Hurdle at Punchestown in January. This is a tried and tested route for Mullins’ Supreme hopes – Vautour, Douvan and Min all won in on their way to the festival.
It’s worth watching each of those wins and comparing them to Getabird’s – he was certainly as visually impressive as any of those three previous Moscow Flyer winners.
My main reservation around Getabird is his price. At the time of writing, the best price that I can see is 13/8, while 6/4 is standard and there are plenty of firms quoting 5/4. To put this into perspective, Vautour went off at 7/2 and Douvan was 2/1. It’s possible that on the morning of the race, some firms will push him out in what is typically a morning of highly competitive activity from bookmakers trying to lure in punters. However, at around 6/4, I’m keen to take him on.
One concern would be better ground. All of Getabird’s form is on softer ground and he hasn’t proven that he will be as effective on a better surface.
However, my real concern would be his jumping. He got a very easy lead in the Moscow Flyer and made all, clocking a time which wasn’t particularly impressive and going at a pace a lot slower than the Supreme. This meant that he was able to get into a nice rhythm and take each of his jumps nicely. This luxury won’t be afforded to him at Cheltenham, where they will more than likely take off at a ferocious pace and his jumping will need to be almost flawless. Getabird has a tendency to jump right and this hasn’t been punished to date, with all of his starts having come at right-handed tracks. However, this won’t be entertained at Cheltenham in a large field in a strongly-run race. Having said that, Douvan and Min hadn’t run at left-handed tracks before their Supremes either.
In my opinion, he jumps more like a chaser – he isn’t slick and efficient over his hurdles, but leaps over them, leaving plenty of air between horse and obstacle. These audacious jumps may be beneficial to a staying chaser, but in a two-mile hurdle it was ultimately cause him to lose ground.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that until recently, Getabird was considered a stayer – his target was definitely the Ballymore and he was probably considered a future staying chaser. One has to wonder whether he would be aimed at the Ballymore if it wasn’t for the lack of depth in the Mullin yard’s 2 mile novice hurdlers, and the presence of Samcro in the Ballymore.
Ultimately, Getabird could prove to just be too good for all of the opposition in what could turn out to be a weak Supreme. However, I can’t have him at 6/4 – he could become a betting prospect at a bigger price on the day of the race.
Amy Murphy’s Kalashnikov has become second favourite in the last week following his impressive win in the Betfair Hurdle and the withdrawal of Harry Fry’s If The Cap Fits. Firstly, he won a good race in the Betfair Hurdle, not travelling that well and still managing to win. He was given a peach of a ride by Jack Quinlan to win despite not seeming to travel that well through it, managing to come alive strongly when it mattered and finish well. One significant point is that he’s thought to be much better on good ground than on soft, and so should have been inconvenienced by the large quantities of rain that fell before the off at Newbury on Betfair Hurdle day.
Before that run, he was 2nd in the Tolworth Hurdle behind Summerville Boy, again putting in a good performance on ground that probably didn’t suit him. He’s a progressive horse who seems to be improving for every start and good ground at the festival should bring about further improvement.
However, I tend to be against horses running in grade one’s at the festival having prepped in a handicap. The Supreme is no different, and Betfair Hurdle winners coming to the Supreme have generally failed to win it – notable examples are Ballyandy last year (4th at 3/1), My Tent Or Yours in 2013 (2nd at 15/8) and Get Me Out Of Here in 2010 (2nd at 9/2).
The place record of Betfair Hurdle winners in the Supreme is actually quite respectable – 3 placed (all 2nd) from 8 runners in the last 10 years. However, winning the Supreme having run in the Betfair Hurdle remains quite a task and it’s a big negative to overcome.
I would also have had him down as more of a stayer, with the Ballymore being an interesting option – he seems to have plenty of stamina but I’m not as sure about speed. Again, I wonder whether the decision to run in the Supreme is partially due to the fact that Samcro will run in the Ballymore (after finishing 2nd in the Tolworth Amy Murphy said as much). It was a brave performance in tough conditions in the Betfair Hurdle which I thought made him look like more of a stayer. However, if connections wished to avoid Samcro, the Supreme is realistically the only option as he would carry a tough weight in any festival handicap.
I was keen to take on Mengli Khan when he was the Supreme favourite earlier in the season – while he’s a much bigger price now than he is then, and so taking him on won’t really create value for us, I’m still not very keen to have him on side for a number of reasons.
Firstly, he has form to reverse with Samcro. I understand that Elliott felt that he wasn’t at his best in the Moscow Flyer as he should probably have beaten Carter McKay in 3rd by further (I don’t necessarily agree with that as I think Carter McKay might still be a slightly underrated horse). However, there’s no denying that Getabird was by far the superior horse that day.
Before that, Megli Khan ran at Leopardstown over Christmas and was running well when he decided to run out through the wing while leading approaching the second last. Prior to these that mishap, he was probably the most impressive novice hurdler in Ireland during the first half of the season. He has run to quite a high standard and if you’re willing to overlook his last run and trust Elliott in thinking that there was something amiss, you could argue that the market has overreacted and 12/1 is too big. Admittedly, he has already run to a level that would probably see him place in a weak Supreme.
His profile is unusual for the race, however. He ran 6 times on the flat and once on the all-weather (the record of flat horses in the Supreme is notorious but this negative was overcome in last year’s unusual result) and ran two disappointing races over hurdles last season. Elliott wasn’t happy with him and decided to hold on to his novice status for this year. That decision was justified as he won a maiden hurdle, then a grade 3, then the grade 1 Royal Bond Novices Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December. His performance that day was very impressive on the clock and none of his opponents could challenge him on the run-in.
His trainer has mentioned that he should improve for better and ground and this is therefore being accepted as the general consensus. I’m not that convinced – he’s a physically massive horse and his starts this year have been on yielding, soft to heavy, soft, soft and soft to heavy in that order. I wonder whether this could be a case of a large, strong soft-ground horse putting in good performances in the winter, but will he like better ground in the spring?
Looking back on his flat form, he won once from 6 starts on turf – it was the only time that he ran on ground described as soft. On the two occasions that he ran on good ground, he was well beaten. His only other win came on his sole start on the all-weather, on ground described as standard to slow. The only point against this is that both of the disappointing performances last season came on bad ground (soft and heavy respectively). However, there could be other reasons that he simply wasn’t firing at the time.
I would have liked to see him run well on good ground before considering him for the Supreme. Even if the market has overreacted to one mishap when going well and one bad run, he’s not a betting prospect for me.
Having moved to Tom George’s yard from Ireland at the beginning of this season, Summerville Boy came up short on all of his first three starts this season despite running respectable races. He came close in his maiden hurdle at Stratford and then in a grade 2 Supreme Trial at Cheltenham in November, finishing 2nd by less than a length on both occasions. He then returned to Cheltenham before Christmas to finish 3rd in a race which really didn’t suit, having been run at a very slow pace.
It doesn’t actually seem that connections felt that he was particularly inconvenienced by the testing ground on these occasions, as the decision was made to send him to Sandown in early January for the grade one Tolworth Hurdle on heavy ground. He won well that day, with that form having subsequently been franked by Kalashnikov. Having said that, the Paul Nicholls horse which finished a well-beaten 3rd that day went off favourite in the Dovecote Hurdle at Kempton at the end of February and was well beaten in 4th, over 14 lengths behind the winner. It is very possible that Kalashnikov improved of his own accord, and that the form of the Tolworth isn’t as strong as the Betfair Hurdle win would suggest.
The overwhelming narrative after that race was that he would improve significantly for good ground – he supposedly wouldn’t have liked the heavy ground at all and will be seen to much better effect on spring ground.
He did stay on well in the Tolworth and he certainly won’t be short of stamina here, with the Ballymore having been suggested as an option earlier in the season. He beat Kalashnikov by 4 lengths (although the runner-up supposedly didn’t like the ground either) and stayed on well up the run-in. However, one major concern would be his jumping. He has made significant mistakes a few times over hurdles and these question marks certainly hadn’t disappeared in the Tolworth when he stumbled over the last.
My hope after that race would have been that he would run again over hurdles before the Supreme in order to gain more experience and improve his jumping. Following his Tolworth win, Noel Fehily commented that he’ll be a better horse next season as he continues to run green (“He will be twice the horse next year – he is still very babyish”). I would have to wonder whether heading straight to Cheltenham is the best option for a horse crying out for more experience. Despite these question marks, it’s possible to argue that he’s overpriced at 12/1 considering Kalashnikov (4 lengths behind him in the Tolworth) is as short as 5/1.
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