It may not have the star-studded lineup of the Festival's championship races, but you'll be hard pushed to find a National Hunt fan that doesn't rank the Supreme Novices Hurdle amongst their favourite renewals of the season. That is largely due to the fact that the race acts as the curtain raiser to the four day Festival, as the 'Cheltenham Roar' testifies, each year.
Is Min A Festival Banker?
Notwithstanding, the Supreme is a race that has established itself as a springboard for future stars of the sport, especially with Willie Mullins taking a stranglehold in recent years, winning the last three! Douvan, Vautour and Champagne Fever, respectively, account for that hat-trick of victories for the County Carlow based trainer and Min is the one that bookmakers are predicting is the most likely to follow in his stablemates footsteps and complete the fourtimer in the race for his handler.
Fiver-year-old, Min, arrived at the Mullins yard from France last Winter, but it was not until December that he made his racecourse debut in Ireland, seeing off 20 rivals in a maiden at Punchestown by an impressive 14 length winning margin. That victory was enough for the Rich Ricci owned runner to head straight to graded company, where he once again showed huge potential when putting in a faultless round of jumping to land the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, back in January. Douvan and Vautour both won the same race en route to Supreme success, the past two years, and bookmakers have reacted by making Min the clear standout favourite for the Festival opener, at odds of 13/8.
Min certainly ranks amongst the 'bankers' of the meeting according to the betting and which media outlets you choose to read, however, he's best left to the big hitters and high rollers at the current odds.
The Bigger Price Alternatives
Anybody clutching an ante post ticket with odds of 10/1 about Min, prior to December's win, is entitled to be pretty smug, right now, given the current odds and anybody ignoring him, must do so at their peril, as Willie Mullins' recent history in the race reaffirms. However, from a value perspective, punters cannot be blamed for seeking a bigger price alternative, especially as prior to those last two winners of this race, no favourite had won in the previous 10 years, whilst nine of the last 12 runners priced 2/1 or under, got turned over! Thus, the Supreme is traditionally a race where the jolly can be taken on by bookmakers and backers, alike.
The Nicky Henderson trained Altior is the 6/1 second favourite, behind Min, having quickly shot to prominence in the early part of the season. After finishing his bumper campaign down the field in the Champion Irish National Hunt Flat Race at Punchestown, last April, the son of 2002 Derby Winner, High Chapparral, romped to a 34 length winning debut over hurdles at Chepstow, in October, before following up with back-to-back wins in valuable contests at Ascot and Cheltenham, respectively. He was last seen winning by 13 lengths at Kempton on Boxing Day and has done nothing wrong in racking up that four timer, fully deserving his place towards the top of the market.
Henderson also trains Buveur D'Air, currently a best price 8/1, who, like his stablemate, Altior, caught the eye on his hurdles debut, beating 10 rivals by 11 lengths during Newbury's Hennessy meeting. He followed that up with a seven length success in a novice hurdle at Huntingdon at the end of January and is set to run at Exeter, on Sunday.
The two Henderson hopefuls have won their six races combined, by running from the front or up with the pace, a feature that has become common amongst Supreme Novice winners in recent years, with 16 of the last 18 winners, doing so after being ridden prominently. Pace and stamina are essential over the two mile trip and both Altior and Buveur D'Air, have shown that they tick that box. Which is the better of the pair remains unanswered, but at the odds, both present better value than Min.
Big Odds The Field...
Outside of the top three in the betting, it's currently 14/1 the field, with unsurprisingly, two more Willie Mullins entires occupying those positions. Bleu Et Rouge and Yorkhill are rated as 14/1 and 16/1 chances, respectively. Yorkhill is unbeaten in two starts over hurdles since winning the Champion Bumper, in Ireland, last year. He has won over both two and two and half miles and is currently second favourite for the Neptune Novices Hurdle, which is likely to be his Festival target. Bleu Et Rogue also holds an entry in the Neptune and the fact that he looked more at home over 2m 2f, last time out, is enough to overlook him in the Supreme market.
Of the others, it's worth taking a second look at last season's Bumper form, based on the fact that of the last 21 horses placed in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, 17 ran in the bumper at a previous meeting. The winner of the aforementioned race in 2014 was Silver Concorde, who hasn't quite hit the same heights over obstacles, failing to win in three starts, hence he's still a novice, despite his advancing years. The Dermot Weld trained eight-year-old had a couple of runs on the flat in the Autumn, before finishing second at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting. He's a strong runner between fences, with plenty of speed, and it would be no surprise to see him in the mix, but a place is probably the best connections can hope for.
Moon Racer won last year's Bumper, however, with no run since that win, it's hard to put any faith (or stake) in to the David Pipe trained runner! Second to Moon Racer was Modus, who hasn't pulled any trees since switching to hurdles. He finished third to Bellshill at Punchestown last April, and any hope provided following two mediocre novice hurdle victories at Taunton and Newbury, were extinguished when going down to Miles To Milan, at Taunton, in December, and there are better 25/1 chance in the race. One such outsider could be Wait For Me, a best price 40/1 chance, who came third in the bumper, came second to Buveur D'Air at Newbury on his hurdles debut, but has shown signs of improvement, winning his last two starts, since. Philip Hobbs won the Supreme with Menorah in 2010, and could well have another lively contender in 2016, with this one seemingly flying under the radar.
Another one to note is Winter Express from the Alan King yard. He made a winning racecourse debut at Doncaster, back in December, and followed that up with another victory over the same course and distance on Thursday, 11th February. There's not much form to go off but he certainly looks the part and if he handles Prestbury Park, he could rate a danger, with best odds of 25/1 unlikely to hand around, with other firms as short as 16/1.
Bookmakers will be quivering at the prospect of the five Willie Mullins trained favourites all copping on day one of the Festival, of which, Min will form the cornerstone for plenty of multiple-bet backers. A leg-one victory could be the start of a disastrous day for layers, but it may pay to take advantage of the 6/1 about Altior, as an alternative to the favourite. Highly rated at Seven Barrows, the six-year-old boasts the best form in the race but doesn't have the 'Mullins Factor', hence, there is some value at the odds.
In the market without Min, you could do worse than have bet on Wait For Me, who is 25/1 in the said market, and with each-way terms about the first three, you are getting over 5/1 about a top four finish, if the Mullins runner does feature in the top three, as well as the win bet and second place, if Min does live up to expectation.