Hill heads the Supreme charge
Skybet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
(Grade 1) 2m 87y
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is both the traditional curtain-raiser for the Cheltenham Festival and usually the strongest of the three non-restricted novice hurdles at the meeting.
The level of rating required to win it in recent years – 161 on average – is nearer to Champion Hurdle class than to that of the weakest of those novices, Friday’s Albert Bartlett.
There is plenty for this year’s contenders to live up to, then. SIR GERHARD has impressed in winning both his starts over timber, most recently the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown by six lengths from 150-rated THREE STRIPE LIFE, making a few mistakes but backing up the effort with a smart time.
He is marginally ahead of DYSART DYNAMO and a bit further ahead of his old sparring partner KILCRUIT, both of them his stable-companions. Those two won races at Punchestown from the front by wide margins and in good times, though Dysart Dynamo’s win came in the Moscow Flyer and Kilcruit’s in just a maiden after two odds-on defeats.
CONSTITUTION HILL, who like his stablemate Jonbon was bought at Goffs UK point-to-point sales, is best of the British on form at the time of writing, recording remarkably good late splits when winning at Sandown on his debut and following up by 12 lengths in the Tolworth Hurdle there, both in testing conditions.
The expensive buy JONBON won at Ascot then Haydock, in ready rather than scintillating style, having COLONEL MUSTARD (rated 142) much closer to him in the former than that one finished in third behind Sir Gerhard since.
A favourable mention can also be made of MIGHTY POTTER (145), who beat Three Stripe Life in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Edwardstone out to
hold off Irish challenge
Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase
(Grade 1) 1m 7f 199y
There are not many disappointing Arkle Chases but we are arguably living through something of a golden era for the race, courtesy of the likes of Douvan, Altior and Shishkin. This year’s contest was weakened when Ireland lost its great hope for this when Ferny Hollow (not shown, rated 162) succumbed to injury but has some capable back-up.
RIVIERE D’ETEL (whose rating includes her sex allowance) was beaten one and a half lengths by Ferny Hollow in the Grade 1 novice chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day then was unlucky not to beat BLUE LORD by a similar margin in the Irish Arkle at the same course in February (SAINT SAM in third), leading when blundering at the last. Riviere D’Etel will be less favoured by the weights at Cheltenham, however, and Blue Lord may have more potential.
EDWARDSTONE ran faster, not just overall but late on too, than proven high-class chaser Greaneteen did in the Tingle Creek on the same card when winning the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown in December, and matched that effort on form and time when landing the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton at Christmas under a penalty impressively by 10 lengths from useful rivals.
THIRD TIME LUCKI is a fast jumper, capable of setting a strong pace, but he proved to be a short-runner ridden in that fashion behind Edwardstone at Sandown. HAUT EN COULEURS (146) achieved less in winning at Leopardstown on his only completed chase start, but did well over hurdles and is certainly promising. BRAVE SEASCA (147) has made big strides in handicaps and beat the experienced Cheltenham Festival winner Sky Pirate in one at Warwick in January.
Honeysuckle a class APART
Unibet Champion Hurdle
(Grade 1) 2m 87y
The Champion Hurdle crown looks HONEYSUCKLE’s to lose. She was devastating in this 12 months ago, roasting Sharjah (absent this year) by six and a half lengths, with former champion EPATANTE (161) beaten on merit in third.
Only Espoir d’Allen’s 15-length romp in 2019 rates more highly among recent winners of the race once Honeysuckle’s sex allowance is added back on (which is the case with that 176 figure, and with Epatante’s 161).
Sharjah reduced the advantage to two and a quarter lengths at Punchestown the following month, but still could not get in front of the mare, who did not have to be at her best win the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse and the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown this campaign, the latter in a rather underwhelming time by six and a half lengths and half a length from ZANAHIYR and 160-rated ECHOES IN RAIN.
Zanahiyr had previously come second to Sharjah at both Punchestown and Leopardstown, getting the margin down to just a neck in the Matheson Hurdle on the latter course.
APPRECIATE IT was brilliant in winning last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle by 24 lengths, though the opposition rather fell away (literally so in terms of 148-rated Blue Lord). His overall time that day would have had him third in the Champion Hurdle, half a length behind Sharjah.
The home defence looks weak. Epatante is not quite as good as she was and was forced to a dead-heat in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle by the unreliable NOT SO SLEEPY (160).
The latter had one of his non-going days behind a workmanlike Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Rags-to-riches horse TOMMY’S OSCAR (159) emerged from handicaps to land the odds in a weak Haydock Champion Hurdle Trial in January.
Along with Zanahiyr, ADAGIO (154), QUILIXIOS (155) and TEAHUPOO (154) represent last year’s juvenile hurdlers, a group that have performed respectably but still have more to do.
Wide open Mares’ Hurdle up for grabs
Close Bros Mares’ Hurdle
(Grade 1) 2m 3f 200y
SOME of the plans for the Mares’ Hurdle are particularly fluid at the time of writing.
In the assumed absence of Epatante and the crack French mare L’Autonomie, last year’s runner-up CONCERTISTA comes out on top, but she would need to be switched back from a successful spell chasing (wins at Cork and Limerick).
The likes of STORMY IRELAND (second to Roksana in 2019 and fifth to Honeysuckle in 2020), TELMESOMETHINGGIRL (who won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle last year) and HEAVEN HELP US (won Coral Cup in 2021) would bring very useful form to the table.
Stormy Ireland might have been a shade fortunate to win the Relkeel Hurdle at this track on New Year’s Day but still ran to a good level, while Telmesomethinggirl came out best at the weights when a close third to ROYAL KAHALA (145) and Heaven Help Us in a Grade 3 at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Royal Kahala has since done even better by landing the Galmoy at Gowran Park, benefiting from Klassical Dream’s under-performance, and seems versatile with regards to trip, ground and tactics. ?