On Tuesday the 10th of March at 13.30 a roar will ring around Cheltenham to signal the start of the most prestigious week of National Hunt racing.
Tickets range between £35 and £150, although if you decide that the restaurant package is for you, you could find yourself paying up to £648!
The first race is the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The current favourite is Douvan, from the powerful stable of Willie Mullins. Ruby Walsh takes the mount and has been the leading jockey in eight of the last eleven Festivals.
One of the greatest gambles of Cheltenham Festival history came in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. It’s imperative to get a good start against the bookies, and the punters did exactly that in 2002, with the JP McManus owned Like A Butterfly obliging at 7/4, having been a much bigger price earlier in the day.
I doubt the punters will be getting much value from the bookies with this Rich Ricci owned son of Walk In The Park, having been heavily supported in the antepost market. Douvan is entered into the Neptune Investment Hurdle on the Wednesday at 13.30, however it appears that Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the preferred destination for the apple of Rich Ricci’s eye.
Originally the race was called the Gloucestershire Hurdle. This race is held over 2 miles and 110 yards with a purse of £140,000. To qualify for the race, horses must be four years or older. The leading jockey in the race is Ruby Walsh, who has won the race four times (three of the last four), and suspiciously the leading trainer is Willie Mullins, also winning four (both 2013 and 2014). They team up on the favorite Douvan for this year’s renewal, looking to make it a hat-trick.
Douvan is a Bay Gelding, which, for those of you that don’t know, is a horse that has been castrated. Horses are generally castrated to calm them down, thus making them easier to work with and control. Douvan has only ever had four runs, two in France and two in Ireland. He’s won three of those runs and currently has a level stakes profit in Ireland of 87p!
L’ami Serge, another French horse, is the second favourite for the first race of the festival, and the Nicky Henderson trained half-brother to Sizing Codelco is certainly no slouch. Owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, this horse is currently unbeaten since joining Nicky Henderson’s yard, justifying favouritism each time. L’ami Serge has a level stakes profit of £3.69 from its first three starts in Britain and is currently available at around 4/1.
The next horse available in the market is the improving JollyAllan. This horse is trained by Harry Fry and will be ridden by AP McCoy. This horse is owned by JP McManus and is held in high regard across Britain, seen as the best chance of a winner in the race. I watched this horse win impressively at Exeter at the start of November. JollyAllan is a very big horse and looks very impressive in the paddock. Even if this horse doesn’t win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, it’s sure to improve as a chaser, so put it in the notebook for future reference – it’s definitely in mine. Harry Fry’s charge is currently available at around 12/1.
This race has been extremely kind to the Irish raiders with ten of the last sixteen winners being trained in Ireland. Nine of the last ten winners were aged between five and six years old, however that’s not a conclusive trend as 84% of the total runners are represented by that age group. There hasn’t been a female winner since Like A Butterfly in 2002. Nine of the last ten winners had run within 55 days of the start of the race and ten out of ten winners have run two to four times over Hurdles. Interestingly, last year’s joint favorite Vautour, is the only favorite to have won the race in the last ten years, giving a level stake loss of £7.75 if you were to stake £1 on each race!
So if we’re looking for trends to make a bet, the profile we’re searching for is for a horse that is five years old who isn’t fully exposed, two to five hurdle runs, that has never finished outside of the top three in those starts and has had twelve or fewer career starts. A horse that has won a bumper or was rated 85+ on the flat.
With this profile, it’s difficult to see passed Douvan, currently available at around 2/1. That’s who I’ll be cheering on come 13.34! If Nichols Canyon runs, I’ll have a little saver on it at 12/1 each way.