The race that kicks off the Festival has been a good friend to punters over the years with a number of well fancied horses scoring and it looking to become a Willie Mullins benefit race before the minor upset of last year. Whereas in recent years we’ve gone into the festival opener with a number of horses tagged as a festival banker, this year has a very different look to it.
The 2016 Supreme was landed in good style by Altior (4/1 2F) for Nicky Henderson, surprisingly winning for the first time since 1992, putting in a mightily impressive performance to beat the 15/8 favourite Min and end the Mullins dominance of recent years. The form of that race has worked out well, with the first two home set to clash again around half an hour after this race in the Arkle.
In my immediate memory we’ve had a number of good things or festival bankers going into this race, starting with the aforementioned Min who failed to land the gamble, but followed by Douvan (won at what now looks a ridiculous price of 7/2JF), My Tent or Yours (beaten at 15/8F by 5/1 shot Champagne Fever), Cue Card (4th at 7/4F, beaten by Al Ferof and one behind Sprinter Sacre who came third in what now looks a seriously strong renewal) and the somewhat forgotten Dunguib (beaten as 4/5F behind Menorah) who was subsequently plagued by injury and never showed his true potential.
Of course some of those bankers didn’t land and there has been some more open renewals recently – the likes of Cinders and Ashes spring to mind, but he had at least put together a sequence of three wins before the festival and beat the ill-fated Darlan who had looked like the Betfair Hurdle winner before falling at the second last – but this year looks the most open renewal in recent memory with nothing really standing out at this point in time. The trend so far has seen anything remotely fancied going on to disappoint or develop a problem.
The 2017 Contenders
Willie Mullins has been the most successful trainer in this in recent years so it was no surprise the talking horses for the Supreme over the summer months were both in his care. Aiming to follow up the succession of impressive Rich Ricci Supreme horses was Senewalk, the early favourite for the Supreme, he made his eagerly anticipated debut over hurdles in December but despite travelling well through the early stages of his race, quickly faded like there was an issue. He has since had a wind-op and is likely to miss the rest of the season.
The second of the Mullins talking horses was Melon, who had been hyped for the best part of six months and when finally sighted at the back end of January duly obliged like a good thing. After that win he was quickly clipped into favouritism and is now available at a best priced 5/1, which seems ridiculously short after winning just a maiden. I’d like to see him out again before the festival as he’ll surely need more experience than a single maiden to win a Supreme, but in a renewal that looks like it’s seriously lacking in its usual depth, maybe he could win it.
Another Mullins contender is Cilaos Emery; currently third in the betting, the form of his solo win has been franked but would he be as short in the betting if he was with any other trainer? He did win well in beating a good yardstick and is sure to shorten if he wins again, so the 8/1 available could be good value, but I don’t think anyone could be confidently backing him for this yet. Crack Mome looked like the horse to take on the Supreme mantle for the yard after winning well on debut but his subsequent performance suggest he may just be short of the quality required to win. He’s definitely worth watching as he could turn that form around, but he would need to improve on his last performance to have a realistic chance.
Airlie Beach has put in an impressive sequence of wins and has some good form in the book but the owners have suggested she will go for the easier target of the Mares Novice Hurdle. Saturnas also has some impressive form in the book, but again rumblings suggest this is not his target with the Neptune on the agenda. Chateau Conti won well on debut, the owners are confident and he’s prominent in the betting, but I’d need to see more to be backing him right now.
The Mullins factor also means there are a number of other stable contenders prominent in the betting but most of these are yet to be seen in public and I couldn’t be taking 20/1 on a horse who has yet to step foot on a racecourse by February (Clinton Hill).
Rest of the Field
The long-time, and in my view worthy, market leader is Moon Racer. Winner of the Champion Bumper in 2015 he was originally intended to return for the Supreme in 2016 but a number of setbacks through the year prevented him from doing so and he made his one and only appearance of the season in the Bumper at Punchestown, finishing second to a good winner. His two runs so far over hurdles have been successful, beating 2016 Champion Bumper winner Ballyandy both times and it has even been suggested a tilt at the Champion Hurdle could even be a possibility. However, despite his previous Festival form, two successes over hurdles this season and the fact he can be described as a worthy favourite, there seems to be a lack of excitement surrounding Moon Racer and I have to admit, I’m no different on this. I just can’t get excited about him, and how many times has an eight year old bagged a Supreme?
JP McManus has had some near misses in this over the recent years with good horses – Binocular (although he did also have the first home in Captain Cee Bee), Get Me Out Of Here, Darlan and My Tent Or Yours – and he again has some contenders near the head of the market this year. The most prominent JP horses in the betting are Defi Du Seul and Charlie Parcs who are both four year olds. Now JP does have some previous in sending a four year old here having done so with Binocular and there is talk of him splitting up some of his abundance of 4-Y-O hurdlers, but I don’t think anyone could comfortably back either of these for this race until connections say definitively what their target is or final declarations are made. Both have shown some very impressive form and rumours suggest it will be Charli Parcs who takes his chance in the Supreme, but I’d only advise backing Non-Runner No Bet at this point in time. Whilst, I’d also be slightly concerned over the ground for Defi Du Seul who would perhaps want it on the softer side.
Also featuring in the betting for JP are Any Second Now, who has won both starts impressively but Ted Walsh suggested he is likely to skip Cheltenham, and Consul de Thaix, who is 16/1 with B365, but I’d be amazed if he turned up here rather than a handicap.
Another contender towards the head of the betting is Finians Oscar, who looks a potential star for Colin Tizzard but there’s little point in talking about him as I’m certain he’s to go for the Neptune.
Nicky Henderson won last year’s renewal and his main contender this year seemed to be Jenkins who should have landed the Goffs Bumper at Punchestown last year and was towards the top of pre-season markets, but after winning well (albeit scruffily) at Newbury went on to disappoint at Kempton over Christmas. It subsequently emerged that he had a problem, so if he bounces back could be overpriced at the 20/1 available, but I wouldn’t be backing him until he shows more and the interrupted preparation is far from ideal at this point in his career. I also heard some positives regarding Top Ville Ben at the beginning of the season and he has since been out and won a bumper and novice hurdle, but the fact he wasn’t seen over hurdles until January would be a worry as it seems like a bit of an after-thought to target hurdles this year.
The final horse to touch upon is Neon Wolf trained by Harry Fry. He was heavily backed last time out and beat a good form-line in Elgin trained by Alan King. He won well and has had plenty said about him in the press, but I get the feeling they’ll skip this race (or Cheltenham all together) so couldn’t back him. The horse he beat, Elgin, had shown some decent form previously and it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibilities to out run his odds at 33/1.
The Supreme Novice Hurdle is currently a clouded picture with no real stand outs to get behind but that picture could change in the coming weeks with one or two impressive performances. Melon has had a lot of hype and won very well, so must enter calculations but I feel he’s just too short at 5/1 on what he’s shown. Cilaos Emery is definitely one to keep an eye on from the Mullins stable and could be worth a bet before his next appearance as his price will tumble if successful.
The McManus 4-Y-O’s could also be strong contenders and it must be a good sign if either head here, but of the two I get the feeling it’s more likely to be Charli Parcs. If his target was confirmed as the Supreme, I’d have to back him.
If the race was taking place tomorrow and I had to have a bet now, my head would probably say Moon Racer for win purposes, but I just can’t bring myself to back him for whatever reason.
Cialos Emery win @ 10/1 Paddy Power
Charli Parcs win @ 6/1 SkyBet (NRNB) – or just back on the day as you’ll probably get as good a price at some point.