Ante-Post Preview #7 – 03/03/2019

2m½f Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – Tuesday 12th March 2019

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the traditional Cheltenham Festival curtain raiser, always preceded by the famous Cheltenham roar of a crowd full of anticipation and excitement. Run over a fast paced two-miles, this is one of the most competitive Novice Hurdles of the season. The Supreme has a fantastic roll of honor including the likes of Altior, Douvan, Vautour, Al Ferof and Champagne Fever in recent years – so it clearly takes a classy horse to win. Last year the race was won by Tom George’s Summerville Boy, and we look to have an even more competitive renewal this year with no Willie Mullins hot-pot at the front of the market.

Usually there is a battalion of Irish challengers heading over, however this year they look like being headed by four-year-old Fakir D’oudairies. Whilst he undoubtedly is a horse with serious talent, a Juvenile hasn’t won the Supreme for 20 years (Hors La Loi III 1999) – and I’m not willing to back at horse so short in the betting to defy those statistics. With the next Irish horse in the betting being Klassical Dream – who likely heads for the Ballymore – Great Britain look to hold the key for this opening event.

Colin Tizzard has a fantastic chance of winning his first Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with five-year-old Elixir De Nutz. This son of Al Namix made his debut for Guy Cherel in October 2017 at Argentan, winning an AQPS flat race. Subsequently moved to Philip Hobbs for owner Terry Warner to pursue a Juvenile campaign last season, this fantastic looking Grey seemed to hate every minute of the Grade 2 Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham on Trials Day. He was held up in the rear that day – tactics which have since been proved the opposite of what this horse wants. Given an easy time by Richard Johnson once it was clear the Gelding had no chance, it’s worth remembering that Philip Hobbs’ stable was in woeful form last season. Left alone until May in order to preserve his Maiden tag for the current campaign Elixir De Nutz ran in a Maiden Hurdle at Uttoxeter, where again he was held up under the Champion Jockey. Showing a much better attitude this time, the five-year-old had every chance at the last when walking through the hurdle and taking a tumble.

After a disastrous campaign, owner Terry Warner took the decision to move Elixir De Nutz to Colin Tizzard, who has done wonders for the horse since joining Venn Farm. Starting off at Cheltenham in October in a hot looking Maiden Hurdle, Harry Cobden took the ride of this four-year-old who showed a bunch of improvement, only being seen off by Thomas Darby in the final 120 yards. Returning to Cheltenham in November to contest the Grade 2 Supreme Trial, Elixir De Nutz recorded a course and distance win when making all from the front, running on well to see off Itchy Feet. Connections decided to roll the dice once more at Prestbury Park in December, running the grey in a Novices’ Hurdle under a 10lbs penalty. This fast improver again made all under Harry Cobden – beating subsequent Listed winner Jarveys Plate. This was arguably his most impressive performance to date making all under such a big penalty, but he faced his toughest task yet on his next start at Sandown.

Elixir De Nutz2
Elixir De Nutz contests the Grade 1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle.

Sent off the 3/1 second favourite for the Grade 1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle in January, Elixir De Nutz again employed his front running tactics – this time under Tom O’Brien. Given a peach of a ride by a jockey who had never ridden him before, this five-year-old battled gamely to hold off the challenge from Grand Sancy to make all. Colin Tizzard’s star novice hurdler showed fantastic attitude to win that day, and he couldn’t come into this contest in better form than winning a Grade 1 event. The Tolworth proved to be a great trial for this race last season with Summerville Boy claiming both contests, and I’m hopeful the trick can be repeated here with this bold front runner. His form at Cheltenham is impeccable, and his experience sets him apart from the rest of the field.

Elixir De Nutz Each/Way @ 8/1

 

The form line of Elixir De Nutz ties into a few likely runners in the Supreme, however one stands out to me in particular. Grand Sancy has a similar profile to our first selection in that he also had an unsuccessful four-year-old campaign last season – but has looked a different horse this term. Fourth in a Market Rasen bumper before second the useful Acey Milan in another at Wincanton, Grand Sancy made his hurdles debut at that same tack in January last year, finishing second in a Novices’ Hurdle on Heavy ground. Again only second at Taunton the next month in a similar event, this son of Diamond Boy was stepped into Grade 2 company to contest the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton. Ridden by Harry Cobden, this Martin Broughton horse finished fourth that day – well beaten by 10/11 favourite Redicean. His last start of the season came at the Cheltenham Festival, where he again disappointed – pulling up in the Grade 3 Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle.

Given a wind operation over the summer, Paul Nicholls started to work his magic straight away on this promising type when contesting the Class 2 Limited Handicap for four-year-olds at Chepstow. Under a brilliant Harry Cobden ride, Grand Sancy raced keenly from the back but kept on well to score by one-and-a-quarter lengths. Turned out just eight days later at Kempton, connections saw a good opportunity to win a Listed Novices’ Hurdle – but in a very slowly run race a scruffy jump at the last handed the prize to Itchy Feet. An easy win at Wincanton followed the next month and connections again turned Grand Sancy out quickly after, to contest another Listed Novices’ Hurdle – this time at Haydock. Sent off the 5/4 favourite, backers were left extremely worried going to the last when he was five-lengths down on leader Cause Toujours. He produced a fantastic staying performance after the last however, getting up to lead toward the finish and in the end score a shade cosily.

Grand Sancy
Grand Sancy on his way to victory at Haydock in November.

Given a mark of 136 for his efforts to date, Paul Nicholls eyed a good opportunity to exploit this mark in Ascot’s Grade 3 Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle in December. Despite still only being a four-year-old, Grand Sancy ran a good race under Lorcan Williams to finish fourth – behind seasoned handicappers Mohaayed, Lisp and Western Ryder. Having ran well in all five starts so far, connections decided to let this now five-year-old to take his chance in the Grade 1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle – where he ran a cracker behind Elixir De Nutz, but ahead of subsequent Grade 2 winning stablemate Southfield Stone. His form doesn’t stop there however, with Grand Sancy running yet another career best in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last month. Tacking the leader, Harry Skelton picked up a spare ride for his old boss and showed great determination to get his charge to see out the win, with the horse gamely staying on from Sceau Royal (154) and Vision Des Flos (150). The latter rival has since franked the form by winning a Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell, but the fact that this five-year-old managed to win an open company Hurdle race despite carrying a 2lbs penalty, clearly proves he deserves serious consideration in this Grade 1 event. This horses possess good speed, but can also stay really well as shown at Haydock – which is exactly what you want from a Supreme horse. This will also be his twelfth run over Hurdles, which clearly highlights his vast experience.

Grand Sancy Each/Way @ 12/1

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