The Cheltenham Festival is now less than five weeks away and the race that kicks-off the four day jamboree of jumps racing is the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Willie Mullins trained Douvan is already a warm-order favourite to make it a hat-trick in the race for the Irish trainer and jockey, Ruby Walsh. After arriving in County Carlow from France in the Summer, Douvan has won both his starts in Ireland this season by a combined 16 lengths and subsequently been cut from 20/1 in to 2/1 for the Festival curtain-raiser.
However, favourites have a poor record in the Supreme, with just eight jollies obliging in the past 40 renewals!
Supreme Novices' Hurdle Trends
10 of the last 10 winners had all won at least50% of starts over hurdles.
9 of the last winners were aged 5 or 6 years old.
10 of the last 11 winners won last time out.
Of the last 17 runners priced below 3/1, only three have won.
Only eight winning favourites in last 40 runnings.
Six of the last 11 winners were trained in Ireland.
10 of the last 11 winners came from the top six runners in the market.
Given the relative inexperience of Supreme Novice runners, much has to be taken on word-of-mouth of trainers and connections and of course, trends. One trend that seems to be emerging following wins for Champagne Fever and Vautour in 2013 and 2014 respectively, is the ability of Willie Mullins trained and Rich Ricci owned runners to win this race. As such, there's no real argument to make about Douvan not continuing that domination for a third straight year but from a value perspective, getting stuck in to a 2/1 shot to kick-off the Festival is a high risk strategy.
Where's The Value?
Amazingly, despite his record at Cheltenham and as one of the sport's leading handlers, Nicky Henderson hasn't trained the winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle since 1992 but in 2015, he could have an entry capble of ending that 23 year wait. L'ami Serge arrived at Seven Barrows from France last year and has taken to life on this side of the Channel in eye-catching fashion, winning all three of his starts by a combined 27 lengths, including a 14 length demolition job in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January. Whilst he didn't have much to beat on that last victory, he won with ease and in a manner that suggested he's more than capable of continuing his upward curve in Grade One company. He's currently a best price of 9/2 with Skybet and makes more appeal than backing the favourite.
Another one that is worth a second look is last year's Champion Bumper winner, Silver Concorde. The Dermot Weld runner followed up his Cheltenham success by following home Shaneshill (who is 16/1 after a win and a second this term) in the Irish equivalent last April at Punchestown before returning to winning ways in a flat race at Navan in October. However, on his first start over obstacles, a couple of mistakes when the 1/3 favourite at Leopardstown Christmas meeting saw him come second to Blaire Perrone, who subsequently came fifth, over 15 lengths behind Douvan in the Moscow Flyer Hurdle in January. Silver Concorde deserves a second chance over hurdles before judgement is made and the current odds of 16/1 could prove big if he puts in a big effort in the Grade One Deloitte Hurdle, for which he is entered, on Sunday 8th February. That race should provide plenty of pointers ahead of the Supereme with both Champagne Fever and Vautour landing the spoils en route to Cheltenham success in the past two years.
Alvisio Ville, another Mullins trained horse (owned by JP McManus) is entered in to the Leopardstown race and will be looking to build on his Boxing Day success over the same course and distance on what will be only his second start over hurdles and for connections. The five-year-old is currently an 8/1 chance and that price could be long gone if winning at the Dublin track.
Another Irish Raider worth considering is Identity Theif, winner of his two starts under rules for trainer, Henry De Bromhead. His first came in a bumper at Fairyhouse in November, before winning a miaden hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas. He's not got the graded form of some of those higher in the betting but the way he kept on last time out, despite a couple of questionable jumps, was enough to suggest there could be a lot more to come. At 33/1 he makes most each-way appeal.
Who Will Rule Supreme? The Conclusion
There's absolutely no reason why Douvan can't continue Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci's fine recent record in this race. However, at the odds, L'ami Serge is the pick. His three wins on British Soil have all been impressive and at twice the price of the favourite, makes more appeal when there is nothing on form to split the pair.