Run over two miles, and taking in eight hurdles, the race is always a hotly contested affair for the novice hurdlers.
This for many people is the most exciting race of the entire horse racing season – flat or jumps.
As the first race of the Cheltenham Festival, excitement levels reach heights that not many other sports can produce.
When the tapes are lifted, releasing the runners into battle, the Cheltenham roar engulfs Prestbury Park and is rumoured to be so loud it can be heard all the way in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania.
I jest, but it really one of the sports most iconic moments and gets the four day Festival off to a flyer.
We all love the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival in the modern-era. The anticipation. The excitement. And, of course, trying to work out whether Willie Mullins has the winner of the Supreme Novices Hurdle – the first race of the four day extravaganza.
One of my favourite parts of Festival week is the talk in pubs around Cheltenham on the Monday evening.
The amount of times I heard “Min’s a good thing” last year was eyebrow raising.
This year all the talk has been centred around the chances of Melon, who leads the betting with most bookmakers for the opening race of the Festival.
Whether you agree with Mullins hype or you’re looking to ignore it, there’s no getting away from the hard facts.
He’s won it three times in the last four years and trained the runner-up in Min last season, who, it turns out might have finished behind potentially one of the best horses we’ve ever seen in the form of Altior.
Mullins has such a wealth of novice hurdlers in his yard that there’s a very strong chance he has a fair idea of the pecking order, hence why Melon, who was rumoured to be the fastest young horse in the Mullins yard over the summer, has shot to the top of the betting markets following his visually impressive debut at Leopardstown.
But are we getting carried away here?
To me, this is a horse that has been priced up on reputation and Mullins’ incredible recent record in the race.
Melon, despite being talked as the stable star, hasn’t taken the same route as the likes of Douvan, Vautour and Champagne Fever, all of whom won the Supreme for Mullins.
As we know, trainers are creatures of habit and like to plot out a journey of races in the calendar that lead to the Festival.
Yes, Melon has reportedly been off the track nursing an injury, but he’s been given a totally different passage to the Festival than previous winners.
All of the aforementioned horses had been given a taste of the top level before scampering clear in the Supreme – Melon has only jogged around to win a maiden hurdle.
He goes into unknown territory in the Supreme and as punters we just don’t know what he’s got in his locker.
On the face of it, the 7/2 looks an absolutely terrible price.
If you’re on at 33/1 from earlier this season then good on you, but the rest of us have missed the boat.
Don’t be a Melon – it’s best to look elsewhere for the winner.
Who won the Supreme Novices Hurdle in 2016?
The race was billed as a match between Altior and Min and it was the Nicky Henderson-trained Altior that got the better of the Willie Mullins-trained hot-pot. The highly-rated Seven Barrows-inmate was classy at his hurdles and showed a devastating turn of foot to power away up the hill to beat Min by a wide margin.
Those two will renew their rivalry over fences this season in the Arkle.
How to find the winner of the Supreme Novices Hurdle?
Try and find a horse that hasn’t been wrapped in cotton wool that has won at the track before. Cue Card, Steps To Freedom, Jezki and Min all are examples of horses trading at short prices to get beat in a Supreme without a recent run under their belt.
Ante-post tip for the Supreme Novices Hurdle?
This isn’t always a profitable race to follow from an ante-post perspective due to the fact much of the top novices from the big yards haven’t been seen before Christmas.
However, Henderson has already sent the very exciting JENKINS out at Newbury and he looked a bit of a tool on his debut over hurdles. His jumping needs work but boy does this lad have an engine.
I’d be surprised if he doesn’t win his next start in Graded company as he’s bound to improve bundles. The current 7/1 available for the Supreme Novices Hurdle looks a tasty proposition and its a price which I’m happy to take.
Formerly, the Gloucestershire Hurdle the race has benefitted from the sponsorship of a number of key sponsors over the years including Lloyds Bank and Waterford Crystal, with SkyBet being the current backers.
More often than not the race attracts a flurry of ante post activity and many punters idea of a Festival banker. Few will forget though the likes of Dunguib (2010 at 4/5) and My Tent Or Yours (2013 at 15/8), who many were convinced to be nailed on winners but were defeated sending many accumulators in the bin-ward direction. However, both in 2014 and 2015 favourite backers were rewarded when Vautour and Douvan took the honours at 7/2 and 2/1 respectively.
Being the Festival opener, the Supreme Novice Hurdle is certain to attract the attention of the betting public again this spring.
In recent years the race has produced two future Champion Hurdle winners in the form of Hors La Loi III (1999) and Brave Inca (2004). Many other of its winners have gone on to have notable careers both over hurdles and fences, but few have become champions.
For four of the last five years the race has been dominated by Ruby Walsh, where for his 2013, 2014 and 2015 he partnered up with champion trainer Willie Mullins and leading owner Rich Ricci.
The Irish team are certain to target the race again in 2016 and have interestingly sent their 2013 and 2014 winners over fences following their victories. The 2013 victor Vautour is now a strong fancy for the 2016 Gold Cup after his imperious victory in the JLT Novice Chase at the Festival last year.
ANTEPOST FOR 2017
The early ante post markets for the 2016 renewal are lead by last year’s impressive Festival Champion Bumper winner Moon Racer. If David Pipe’s horse can convert his bumper form into hurdle performances he stands a good chance of taking the race. Roger Charlton’s Modus finished second to Moon Racer at the Festival last season and has to be respected if he takes to hurdles too.
However, punters would be wise at this stage not to be too confident that either are guaranteed to sparkle over the obstacles and would be wise to keep their powder dry.
John Ferguson’s Penglai Pavilion has been a very eye-catching recruit to hurdling. Fifth in the 2013 L’Arc de Triomphe, he has shown that at least some of that class has transferred over to hurdles, notching up facile wins at Hexham, Stratford and Cheltenham latest. It is worth noting that a number of Cheltenham Showcase winners have gone on in the past to take the glory in March. Priced at 20/1 and greater with firms, the danger to a bet is that his trainer does not opt for another race at the meeting.
That said he was a very impressive winner at Cheltenham on day one of the Showcase Meeting and made it into a number of discerning punters notebooks.