The curtain raiser to the ‘Greatest Show On Turf’ is the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, where we hear that famous roar as the tape rises for the first time at the Festival. Willie Mullins has had a good time of things in this race recently, gaining victories with Champagne Fever (2013), Vautour (2014) and Douvan (2015) before seconds with Min (2016) and Melon (2017). The enigmatic Labaik was last years winner for Gordon Elliott at a very tasty starting price of 25/1.
This season the market is headed once again by a Willie Mullins horse in the famous pink and green silks of Rich and Susannah Ricci, this time in the shape of Getabird at around 5/2. Unbeaten in 4 starts under rules he looks a deserving favourite, especially considering what he did at Punchestown last time out. He was an impressive winner of the Moscow Flyer (previously won by Vautour and Douvan in the same silks on their way to Festival glory) where he beat Mengli Khan, who at that stage was the leading horse in the division having won the Royal Bond a month prior. Getabird was receiving weight that day, but he did it so well and the way he quickened from the back of the last was really striking so I would have every faith in him confirming that form.
If The Cap Fits has done nothing wrong for Harry Fry this season in winning all 3 of his hurdle races without ever looking uncomfortable at any stage. He was fourth in the Aintree Grade 2 Bumper last season, but that is his only piece of graded form as he is yet to run in higher than a Class 2 over obstacles. This is a slight concern for me as although he has looked impressive, you’re taking a lot on trust as you can question the strength of his form over hurdles. He is actually one of my ‘National Hunt 10 To Follow’ this season and I remain confident that he is a very smart animal, but at 8/1 he doesn’t strike me as value in a race of this quality.
Nicky Henderson’s Claimantakinforgan had looked the strongest of the British contingent before running an average race in third at Musselburgh last time out. That is his only defeat over hurdles though and based on his bumper form from last year (particularly his 3rd in the Champion Bumper at last years Festival) he is still one to consider as he’s drifted out to 16/1 and 20/1 in a number of places.
Aside from the favourite, there are a few that interest me at bigger prices which may well be worth a small antepost investment. The first is Paloma Blue, aside from his second to Fayonagh in the Punchestown Grade 1 Bumper back in April, I hadn’t previously seen a great deal that made me think this was a solid Grade 1 horse. But this changed when he ran in the Deloitte Hurdle behind Samcro, where he really caught my eye. They went a dawdle in the early stages which caused him to be keen and he pulled his way to the front end, he was still travelling well approaching 2 out where the tank seemed to empty due to his earlier exploits. He continued to stay on well and ended up finishing third, the way he shaped during that race and the fact he did far too much early on, I think there was plenty to like about that effort. A stronger pace in the Supreme would really suit him and the 25/1 available with Betfair looks very appealing, but they’re not NRNB so it would be money lost if he doesn’t turn up. There is however 20/1 available NRNB.
Tolworth Hurdle winner Summerville Boy is another that could be being overlooked, especially given the fact that he is already a Grade 1 winner. He is a horse that would definitely need a strong pace and he is likely to get one here. The race he was third in at Cheltenham in December can certainly be forgotten as they went a crawl and it just didn’t suit him at all. The pace of the Tolworth really brought out the best in him and if you’d have told me at the start of the season that the winner of that race would be 20/1 NRNB for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, I would have had a very puzzled look on my face.
The last horse I will briefly touch upon is Kim Bailey’s Rossington Main winner, First Flow. Unbeaten over obstacles, he eased clear in good fashion in the aforementioned Grade 2 at Haydock in the style of a nice horse. A concern would be that his 3 wins have come on Heavy (twice) and Soft, so whether he would find everything happening a little too quick for him on Spring ground in a Supreme, I’m not sure.
The most likely winner for me is without doubt the favourite, Getabird. He has looked right out of the top drawer and I think he’ll get the festival off to the perfect start for Mullins, Walsh and Ricci, again…But there is some nice each way value out there, most notably for me Summerville Boy and Paloma Blue, closely followed by Claimantakinforgan.