Supreme things come to those that wait. That’s the message ahead of this year’s intriguing Cheltenham Festival Novice Hurdle curtain raiser.
The man in question is trainer Nicky Henderson. The leader of the Seven Barrows-based institution may have become the leading Cheltenham Festival trainer of all time at the 2012 Festival but it’s been 21 years since he tasted success in the Supreme Novice Hurdle.
Unbelievably, River Ceiriog’s win in 1986 was the last time Henderson ended up in the winners’ enclosure for this race.
His 21-year duck hasn’t come from the want of trying though. He has saddled 24 runners since 1986, and although he has hit the bar on many occasions – to the extent that he has saddled the last two runners-up – that elusive victory has just been beyond his grasp.
However, 2013 could be the year Henderson strikes gold.
Henderson has 13 horses listed among the entries but the one that looks a clear value selection at this stage is classy recruit River Maigue, who can be backed at 10/1 with both Ladbrokes and Coral.
Owner Michael Buckley has endured a rollercoaster 18 months after the retirement of the potentially top-class Spirit Son, who finished second in one of the strongest renewals of the Supreme in 2011, where Al Ferof, Cue Card and Sprinter Sacre filled the first four places.
Yet, he could go some way to putting the disappointment of Spirit Son’s injury behind him with River Maigue.
Although officially run over the minimum trip of two-miles, the Supreme Novice Hurdle, in recent years, has become more about staying power than favouring the speedier types.
With it being the opening race of the Festival, adrenaline is pumping through the veins of jockeys, and they perhaps go out a touch harder than usual in the Supreme, therefore turning the race into a real test of stamina that rides more like a two-mile and four furlongs race.
Hot favourites such as Amaretto Rose, Dunguib and Cue Card have all been put in their place by horses that stayed far better coming up the Cheltenham hill in the last five years.
River Maigue looks an ideal type to latch onto this season. The six-year-old is bred to handle further than two miles and won a point-to-point in Ireland earlier in his career, but also has plenty of speed in his make-up.
He made his UK debut behind Dodging Bullets at Cheltenham in November and ran with plenty of credit in a very slowly run race which was dictated from the front by Ruby Walsh aboard the winner.
His performance at Kempton over Christmas is the main reason why he has jumped to our attention as a betting proposition for the Supreme. Unlike other pre-Festival trial races, this one was run at a proper pace and mirrored, hopefully, how the Supreme will be run.
The pacesetters went off a strong gallop and set the race up for a strong finisher, which was River Maigue, who travelled impeccably off the strong pace before powering clear to hammer a decent yardstick in New Year’s Eve by seven lengths.
There are plenty of dangers in the market however, but most are being priced up on potential rather than a strong substance of form.
Un Atout, the second favourite at 8/1, Puffin Billy at 9/1 and My Tent Or Yours at 10/1, all have impressed over hurdles but none have really shown what they can do in a strongly run race.
Ante-post favourite Jezki, who can be backed at 7/2 with William Hill, recorded back-to-back wins in Grade Ones over Christmas and looks a real player, but he has been off the track since and goes to straight to Cheltenham.
When you consider 16 of the last 18 Supreme winners had a previous run in the last 45 days, you have to doubt whether Jezki will be at his peak, especially if he is trading as a short priced-favourite.