The Supreme Novices' Hurdle is the next race under our microscope and site editor, Sean Raymond (@seanraymond), has been pouring over the ante-post market...
Aside from the Championship races, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle is amongst the most popular of the entire week. The curtain raiser of the Cheltenham Festival, the Supreme is always an exciting contest in it's own right but also offers us racing fans the chance to watch the future superstars of the sport go head-to-head.
Recent winners of the Supreme include Altior, Douvan, Vautour and Champagne Fever, and ante-post punters will be desperate to pick the value out of this years race.
Is Melon The Next Douvan?
We do have a Willie Mullins ante-post favourite for the Supreme this year but it isn't the typical red hot banker, as we have seen in the recent past. Melon has long been a social media horse and we finally got to see him recently when he won a maiden hurdle with the minimum of fuss at Leopardstown.
His form in France was decent. without being anything to write home about, but it was hard not to be drawn in by the hype as I ran the rule over his debut win for Willie Mullins. He travelled like a class animal, but it was his jumping that took the eye in particular as he skipped over his obstacles in good ground.
Now, it was clearly an average maiden hurdle but sometimes the eye tells you more than the bare form and the feeling is that Melon is likely to be an excellent prospect.
Backing him at this stage for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle is another question altogether though, with Sky Bet offering just 4/1 about him claiming the Festival curtain raiser.
He is clearly a classy animal, and may well turn out to be too good, but the value has gone from his price now, which means it is impossible to back him off of the back of a maiden hurdle win. If you are clutching a double figure ante-post ticket with Melon for the supreme written on it then you might well be in clover, but he isn't an option for this column.
Moon Racer Unbeaten Over Hurdles
The best of the British challenge could come from Moon Racer (6/1), who has consistently proven himself to be a top class animal.
The Champion Bumper winner in 2015, the 8YO has won both of his starts over hurdles this season, having missed the majority of last campaign, and he is hard to find holes in.
He is 3-3 at Cheltenham which is a major bonus and he appears to have plenty of speed in the locker, which he will need. It is slightly surprising that we haven't seen him since November which would be a slight worry, and then of course there is the age factor.
Like-A-Butterfly was the last 8YO to win a Supreme in 2002, in fact we have only seen one horse older than six win the race in the intervening 14 years. Connections will tell us that his age isn't a worry but for those that follow trends and stats, it is undoubtedly a negative for the talented Moon Racer.
Wolf And Oscar Are Only NRNB Options
Moving on, we come to two fascinating horses in the betting in the form of Neon Wolf (14/1) and Finian's Oscar (20/1).
These are two potential superstar horses but both are far from definite runners in the 2m novice division at Prestbury Park. Finian's Oscar won a bona fide Supreme Trial in the form of the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown and given that he was an Irish Point-To-Point winner as recently as October, that was a remarkable display.
Clearly a 3m chaser of the future, Finian's Oscar is going to be a factor in whichever race he turns up in at the festival but at this stage the Neptune appears the most likely target, unless their is an unlikely deluge.
Neon Wolf is a very similar type of animal. The Harry Fry trained horse is a staying chaser in the making, but he impressed recently when winning the Supreme Trial at Haydock with his head in his chest, which means he also doesn't lack speed at this stage.
Of the two, it would be Neon Wolf who would be the preference as the more likely runner, but even he might need some cut in the ground to take his chance.
Bigger Priced Alternatives
Punters looking for an each-way bet have a variety of options this season with some very good horses at double figured odds.
Charli Parcs (7/1) and Defi Du Seuil (14/1) have impressed everyone this term but at least one, if not both of them, will stick to juvenile company in the Triumph. Charli Parcs appears to be the one that they could throw in the deep end but it is impossible to back him for the Supreme given his one win, especially with 4YO horses having such a poor record in the race.
Cilaos Emery (10/1) is another Willie Mullins horse heading to theSupreme and like Melon, he is an impressive winner of a maiden hurdle. In fact you could argue that the bare form of his maiden hurdle win is superior to that of Melon at this stage.
Similar comments apply to CHATEAU CONTI who is yet another Willie Mullins maiden hurdle winner who is on the way to the Supreme. A winner of two races in France, he was ultra-impressive when tanking to an easy win at Cork back at the start of January in heavy ground on stable debut.
Most horses from France enjoy some cut in the turf but he was a winner on good to soft in France, so some decent conditions at Cheltenham is unlikely to trouble him.
Owned by the team behind Un De Sceaux, Chateau Conti is likely to be a chaser in the making and although the talk hasn't been there on social media, he was hugely impressive on the eye that day at Cork.
He will surely want further in time given his pedigree but this is a classy animal to follow and keeping him onside at 16/1 with Paddy Power from an each-way perspective is a smart bet. He looks sure to turn up in the race and his maiden hurdle win had the hallmark of something hugely talented.