The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the first event of Cheltenham Festival, bringing the next round of potential champion jumpers to the forefront of the National Hunt.
Current greats of the sport have made their initial Cheltenham bows in the race. Altior won the meet in 2016 with a fine performance, while Vautour claimed the crown before later triumphing in the JLT Novices’ Chase and Ryanair Chase.
It provides the first opportunity for the competitors to make a lasting impression. Perhaps more importantly for the trainers, how their charges handle the occasion with the additional noise and horses in the field that can disrupt flow on the track.
Al Dancer has put himself to the front of the field in the eyes of the bookmakers with a number of fine performances over the course of the campaign.
However, he will be tested, with little to choose from between the rest of the competitors, including Fakir D’oudairies, Angels Breath and Klassical Dream.
It’s often the hardest race for punters to predict with little information available to punters. We’ll now breakdown their form to see whether it can translate to success in the opening race of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge has moved himself into pole position in the thoughts of the bookies as a result of his four-race winning streak. The six-year-old has been outstanding this term and will be looking to continue the trend of six-year-old’s winning the meet. The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle has been won for the last years by horses of his age, blending experience with speed on the track.
The French-bred horse did not pull up any trees with his debut season, notching one win on the flat in his opening four races. However, Al Dancer made a statement in his first race of the 2018/19 season. He was named the favourite for the Smarkets Novices’ Hurdle at Carlisle and delivered with a confident display, finishing one-and-a-quarter lengths ahead of Windsor Avenue. Sam Twiston-Davies in the saddle guided his charge to another quality outing in the Pennant Walters Novices’ Hurdle, claiming his second win of the campaign by two lengths.
Al Dancer carried the momentum into his first major test of the season in the Catesby Handicap Hurdle. He rose to the occasion against a strong field, dominating with his speed down the stretch to canter to a comfortable victory. The French-bred horse made his first appearance at Ascot at the Betfair Hurdle.
Twiston-Davies in the saddle manoeuvred his charge into the leading group in the early stages before he urged him on with two fences remaining to take the lead. He powered down the straight to triumph ahead of Magic Dancer. Twiston-Davies’ charge is certainly the horse to beat in the Cheltenham Festival opener.
The four-year-old failed to make a breakout under his former trainer in France, Guy Cherel, in 2018. Owner JP McManus moved him into the yard of Joseph O’Brien after he failed to win a single one of his four races under the tutelage of Cherel, with his best performance coming in the Prix Gacko where he was beaten by a neck by Notorious at Compiegne. Since his arrival in the United Kingdom and Ireland, his fortunes have changed.
Fakir D’Oudairies made his bow at Cork in his Maiden Hurdle in January, facing a talented field, including race favourite Fast Buck. However, JJ Slevin in the saddle guided his charge to a brilliant performance. He timed his run to perfection, landing every jump before pulling away from the field to clinch the victory by three-and-a-half lengths ahead of Fast Buck.
The French-bred horse enhanced his credentials for Cheltenham Festival with another fine performance, making his presence felt on the course in the Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle. Sleven led his charge to a dominant outing, defeating the rest of the field by 13 lengths. It remains to be seen where O’Brien will place his charge, but if he chooses the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Fakir D’Oudairies has the raw talent to compete for the crown.
Willie Mullins has a good history in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, winning the event more times than any other trainer with five triumphs. The last of those came in 2015 with Douvan, although he will have high hopes with Klassical Dream. The French-bred horse did not enjoy success under the charge of Mlle I Gallorini in his homeland, transferring into Mullins’ yard for the 2018/19 National Hunt campaign.
He made his debut in Ireland at Leopardstown just after Christmas 2018 in his Maiden Hurdle and was a slight outsider for the crown at 5/2 behind the favourite Vision D’Honneur. However, he produced a fine outing with Paul Townend in the saddle. He took the lead on the penultimate fence and managed to overcome a mistake over the last to claim the narrow win.
Ruby Walsh took the reins for the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle in February, highlighting his rise in Mullins’ yard. The French-bred horse struggled for fluency, but found a semblance of his best form down the stretch to beat out his stable-mate Aramon by a head on the line. Given his form and the history of Mullins, Klassical Dream is one to watch for a value pick at Cheltenham Festival.
One of the aspects of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle that makes it a hard meet to predict is the lack of races even some of the elite competitors have under their belts. Angels Breath only has one of experience in the National Hunt, although it’s not entirely the fault of Nicky Henderson as his second meet was cancelled due to the equine flu outbreak.
Still it’s not ideal preparation for Cheltenham Festival amid a talented field of horses. However, he did win the only race of his career in comfortable fashion in the Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle as Ascot in December. Nico de Boinville led his charge to victory with ease by four-and-a-half lengths, highlighting his talent, although whether has the experience to triumph on the big stage is another matter.
It’s a difficult one to pick for the Cheltenham Festival opener. Al Dancer has the experience and the quality victories in the National Hunt this term. Fakir D’Oudairies could provide a shock should O’Brien elect to put his charge in for the meet over the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and the Triumph Hurdle. Angels Breath has exciting potential, but does not have the experience of his rivals in the National Hunt.
Klassical Dream is the horse to consider at +900 with 888Sport. He has performed well in his two races since the turn of the year and given Mullins’ history at the race, the French-bred horse has good value to claim the victory. Mullins has a drought of three years, expect this charge with Walsh in the saddle to end his trainer’s search for a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle triumph.
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