The 2014 Cheltenham Festival kicks off on Tuesday March 11 and as per usual the first race to set punters pulses racing is the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
This year’s renewal looks as tricky as ever although the market have it as a match race between the Willie Mullins-trained Vautour and the Paul Nicholls-trained Irving, you can never rely on the favourites to do the job in the opening race.
Only two of the last 11 horses to have started 2/1ot shorter in the betting have delivered the goods.
Having won all three races since joining the stable it is possible for Mullins and Ruby Walsh to once again team up to send another Supreme contender Vautour to victory after Champagne Fever landed the spoils last season under a masterful Walsh ride.
With both the Deloitte and Kells Maiden Hurdle under his belt, the Supreme Novices Hurdle looks well within the radar for Vautour, of whom his owner proclaimed prior to his win at Leopardstown: “I think he could be something special.”
There is however a risk that he could be over-bet, considering the combination of his connections and eager punters anxious to get off to a winning start. Numerous short priced favourites have failed to shine in the Supreme.
His chance is being largely judged on his Deloitte Hurdle win. The Grade One race has produced eight Festival winners since 1994 including Like-a-Butterfly and Brave Inca also won the Festival curtain raiser after winning this 2m2f contest. You can back him at 3/1.
Meanwhile, Nicholls is of the opinion that Irving, who is a 5/2 chance, is a special horse.
Scuppering plans for the Tolworth and Betfair Hurdles, Nicholls managed to get one last run for him before Cheltenham with a win at Kempton. He has now unbeaten in four starts over hurdles, including an impressive win at the Sky Bet Dovecote Novice Hurdle at Kempton.
The meeting throws up a few Festival winners every so often.
Jockey Nick Scholfield cemented his potential after his latest win, saying “he’s like concorde.”
Wicklow Brave, who is also trained by Mullins, looks the most likely to upset the apple cart.
He secured his place in the Supreme after coming in first place at the Stallion Owners Hurdle defeating Lieutenant Colonel to the finish line meaning Wicklow Brave has now won five out of seven races, three of these in bumpers. He can be backed at 6/1.