Getting the favourite turned over in the Supreme Novices Hurdle has been a profitable path many bookmakers have taken in recent years. Cousin Vinny (2009) Dunguib (2010) and Cue Card (2011) all have been beaten when well fancied as this year Darlan heads pundits Cheltenham tips for the race at odds of 5/1.
In fact, only three of the last 16 horses starting at 3/1 or lower have been successful in the Festival opener. Paddy Power especially have been very clued up on the race, risking over £1m on money back guarantees on the basis that the favourite would get beat.
There is no hot-pot for this season’s renewal, as no horse has really stood out in his prep races, and it says a lot for the market that the 5/1 favourite, the Nicky Henderson-trained Darlan not only took a heavy fall on his last start but also only won his two previous races by an aggregate of three quarters of a length. Not the usual profile for a Supreme Novices winner in the slightest.
True, the way in which he won his second start at Taunton was impressive (jockey Barry Geraghty never moved a muscle for the entire race) and the word around the Henderson stable has been for a while that the horse is supremely talented. But this looks a fantastic case of a talking-horse, whose reputation outweighs his ability and therefore becomes a layers dream.
In the heat of a Supreme Novices battle it is imperative that the horse has the ability to battle up the Cheltenham hill and Darlan, despite his favourite tag, has yet to show the world he can deliver the goods in a battle.
We could have found out in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, where he was travelling better than anything before taking a big tumble at the second last. But judging by his performance over course and distance nose win at Cheltenham in December, his battle skills are far from hardened. The 121-rated High Storm got within a nose of him that day and has gone onto flop twice since.
None of the thirteen horses who failed to complete a race on their prior start have won the Supreme, and Henderson is 0-16 with his runners in the last 10 years.
The vibes are strong around the Henderson camp, and a market move on the day looks a formality as the horse is owned by JP McManus. But, despite his big reputation, Darlan has yet to merit his position at the head of the betting and should be swerved when planning an attack on the race.