Who are the Leading Irish Contenders for 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival?

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is so much more than the curtain raiser to the Cheltenham Festival.

This 2m Grade 1 test helped launch the careers of star National Hunt horses such as Flyingbolt, L’Escargot and Bula when it was known as the Gloucestershire Hurdle. In more recent years, the Supreme has been won by the likes of Brave Inca and Altior.

As four of the last six and seven of the last 12 winners were Irish trained, Emerald Isle raiders must be respected. But who are the leading Supreme contenders for the 2019 renewal scheduled to be run on Tuesday, 12 March?

Mullins has a Strong Hand, as Ever

Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins is the most successful in this event of late, saddling three of the last six winners. They were formidable trio Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan in consecutive years between 2013 and 2015.

While the County Carlow handler’s runners have disappointed somewhat in the three renewals since, he remains hugely respected. Heading the Mullins team in this Supreme looks to be Aramon and Klassical Dream, who were just a head apart in a key trial at the Dublin Racing Festival.

The terms of that Leopardstown Grade 1 curiously gave five-year-old Klassical Dream 1lb of weight from his older stable companion, and they fought out the finish. Aramon could re-oppose off level weights with the younger horse and, therefore, that narrow margin of victory could easily be overturned come Cheltenham.

Ante-post betting in the build-up to the Supreme doesn’t reflect this, however, as Aramon is widely available at 12/1 with bookmakers, while Klassical Dream is shorter at a general 8/1. Quick Grabim would likely have headed the master of Closutton’s Supreme squad and was the pick of many tipsters including Oddschecker experts, but injury ruled him out.

All three of those recent Mullins mounts to win this carried the famous pink and green spotted silks owners of Rich and Susannah Ricci. Connections have also talked up French import Annamix for the race both this season and last, but the six-year-old grey is out t0 25/1 in some places and was beaten on his debut for the yard at Limerick.

Knowing exactly what Mullins will do with his plethora of horses is always difficult to be definitive about in advance but the likes of Sancta Simona and other mares have a race against their own sex at the Festival. The Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle is an attractive alternative to the Supreme run a couple of days later at Cheltenham, albeit at Grade 2 level.

Elliott up Against it in Search for Another Labaik

“Gordon Elliott” (CC BY 2.0) by danheap77

County Meath handler Gordon Elliott pulled off one of the biggest shocks in recent Cheltenham Festival history in this race two years when winning it with Labaik. It wasn’t a surprise that he trained the winner, only that this particular horse had a notoriously poor temperament

Labaik did put everything together when scooping Supreme success in 2017, however, and Elliott is likely to be represented in this year’s renewal by at least one of many horses owned by major backers of the yard. Gigginstown House Stud have had horses placed in this race three times before but never won it.

Ryanair supremo Michael O’Leary and brother Eddie must work out which of their horses in Elliott’s care should run where. While the likes of Battleoverodyen and Commander Of Fleet have Grade 1 form over further, Felix Desjy and Vision D’honneur look to be the owners’ most likely entrants.

Felix Desjy won the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown but hasn’t had it all his own way over obstacles so far, despite winning an Irish point. Vision D’honneur, meanwhile, is well held on previous form with Klassical Dream, so stepping him up in trip may be on the cards.

It might just be Elliott’s best chance of Supreme success comes from horses that aren’t owned by Gigginstown. Galvin is unbeaten in four starts under rules for Ronnie Bartlett and could be an unexposed sort if pitched in at the deep end at Cheltenham.

O’Brien looking to get in amongst the big boys

Irish jumps racing is far from a duopoly, however, especially since Joseph O’Brien retired from riding for all-conquering father Aidan and set out as a trainer in his own right. O’Brien junior looks to have a leading crop of juvenile horses in the British Isles this season, so – rather than run them all against one another in the Triumph Hurdle – could one go in the Supreme instead?

“Former flat jockey Joseph O’Brien is now a trainer” (CC BY 2.0) by danheap77

Four-year-old winners of the latter are very rare indeed. The last juvenile to win the Supreme was Horse La Loi III some 20 years ago. Given that most recent winners are aged five or six, even with a weight-for-age allowance, it takes an exceptional horse to beat their elders.

Many observers were gushing with praise for Fakir D’oudairies after his wide-margin victory in the Grade 2 Finesse Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day. Connections have him entered in both the Triumph and Supreme off the back of that 13-length romp and he is clearly an above average sort for his age.

Fakir D’oudairies has competition from within his own stable for the Triumph courtesy of the JP McManus owned Sir Erec, so the 12/1 about him for the Supreme instead cannot be ruled out. Course form is key for the Festival so, whichever race he lines up in, he’ll be respected. 

And as for the home team…

The Supreme betting is headed by a British trained horse in the Nicky Henderson trained Angels Breath at 5/1. He won one of the official trials for the race, the Grade 2 Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas.

Angels Breath is a lightly-raced five-year-old and one of two possible runners for owner Dai Waters. The other is the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Al Dancer, a course winner who was a big ante post punt for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.

That ultra-competitive Grade 3 handicap has provided plenty of clues for the Supreme in recent years despite being open company rather than just novices. Al Dancer is a year older than Angels Breath and both are relatively unexposed.

Tolworth Hurdle hero Elixir De Nutz, meanwhile, won one of the other official Supreme trials at Cheltenham back in November and is three out of three at the track for Colin Tizzard. That Sandown Grade 1 appears to give him leading form claims from all the home team horses with prices varying between 14/1 and 10/1 depending on the bookie.