Supreme Novices Chase Cheltenham Tues
The Cheltenham Festival is almost upon us as the action kicks off at Prestbury Park, as the Supreme Novices Hurlde kicks off Tuesday, with Darlan, Steps to Freedom and Cinders and Ashes all popular tips with punters. One of Ireland’s most fruitful races at the Cheltenham Festival is historically the opening race of the Festival; the Irish have won eight of the last 13 runnings.
This year, according the markets, their first string looks to be the Jessica Harrington-trained Steps To Freedom, who has all the hallmarks required to become a star of National Hunt racing.
Built like a chaser, but possessing the speed of a top Flat horse, many have earmarked the seven-year-old for Supreme success, but he has been put away in his box since winning at Cheltenham on 11 November, and the stats show this doesn’t bode well for his chances.
Bar Captain Cee Bee in 2008 every other Supreme Novices winner had an outing within the previous 68 days, and all of them bar French Ballerina in 1993, raced competitively within the previous 45 days.
Novices are novices for a reason, they lack significant racecourse experience. They need to be kept familiarised with the goings on a raceday and can learn plenty from a way a certain race is run. Harrington’s decision to wrap up her star hurdler in cotton wool doesn’t really make much sense to me; she even pulled him from taking part in a prep run on the Flat at Dundalk last month.
Judging by this break, the horse surely will lack the fitness edge possessed by most of his rivals on the day – Harrington seems confident that all is well with the preparations but from a betting perspective it’s a classic case of the Mark Winstanley’s “wouldn’t back him with counterfeit”.
Course and distance form is also usually something to swear by at the Festival but in this case it’s probably best to ignore Steps To Freedom win in the Sharp Novices’ Hurdle in November.
As a prep-race not only as the form worked out poorly, but the last five winners of that event have finishing positions of 09004 when running in the Festival opener. Seven-year-old’s have a stinking record in the race as well; from 22 runners in the last 10 years, only two have be able to finish in the first three.
The stats and the form just don’t add up – and he’s another Supreme contender, along with Darlan, that should be laid with confidence on the day.