We’re closing in on the start of the 2023 Cheltenham Festival. Horse racing betting sites and horse racing fans alike are getting ready for the biggest week of the jump season. Here at Bookmakers.com, we’ve already previewed the novice chases at the Festival. Now it’s time for the novice hurdlers.
The 2023 Cheltenham Festival gets underway with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. In the absence of a banker, we instead have six horses currently available at 10/1 or less. History tells us that these are the ones to focus on, as only one horse (Labaik in 2017) has won the Supreme with an SP bigger than 10/1 since 2010. There are question marks over a lot of these runners though.
All the talk of Facile Vega being an all-time great seems fairly misplaced after his run at the Dublin Racing Festival. He still could be out of the top drawer, but that run is hard to forgive. Marine Nationale would be a popular winner, but with 100 days between his Royal Bond win and the Cheltenham curtain-raiser, I’m happy to oppose.
Il Etait Temps benefited from a race that fell apart last time, while Gaelic Warrior, Luccia and Impaire Et Passe aren’t sure to line up for this race. Which means looking beyond that 10/1 threshold for the pick.
High Definition falls into the ‘could be anything’ category. He was a high-class flat horse who, despite not looking a natural hurdler on debut, showed that his engine is still very much there. An early departure at the DRF could have saved him a hard race, which may pay dividends here. With most of the contenders having questions to answer, I’d much rather be on a 12/1 shot than on one of the shorter priced runners.
With just two UK horses priced up shorter than 40/1, the Ballymore looks destined to be going to Ireland. Step up Hermes Allen.
Paul Nicholls’ unbeaten hurdler shot to the top of the betting for this race after his impressive win in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury on New Year’s Eve. Challow Hurdle winners have a shocking record in this race, but there looked to be something special about the selection that day, as well as when winning a Grade 2 at Cheltenham in November.
Both Impaire Et Passe and Gaelic Warrior could be going to the Supreme, so viable opposition isn’t as easy to find as it first appears. Seabank Bistro is worth a mention. Fourth in last year’s Champion Bumper, he seems to be getting his act together over timber. He’ll probably need quite a bit of rain to be seen at his best, but he could pick up the pieces and run on for a place.
The Albert Bartlett is one of the most open-looking graded races at the Festival this year. The shortest-priced runner is 4/1, and the fact that a lot of potential contenders could end up in the Ballymore make this a tough one to figure out.
Corbett’s Cross won a Grade 2 over just shy of two miles at Naas in February. Having previously won a three-mile handicap on soft/heavy ground at Fairyhouse, he has the class and toughness to go very close.
Willie Mullins’ Embassy Gardens is the second favourite at the time of writing. A shaky start to his hurdling career has improved as he’s been stepped up in distance, and he should relish this test. The pick though, thanks to Diarmuid Nolan’s compelling case at the #racehour Cheltenham Preview Night, is Shanbally Kid. Available at 20/1, the form of his maiden win at Navan in January has worked out brilliantly. His form lines tie in with the right horses, and the apparent Willie Mullins second string looks overpriced.
One of the bankers of the Festival, Luccia, is very hard to oppose. Unbeaten in two bumpers and a pair of hurdle races, she wouldn’t be out of place in the Supreme. Nicky Henderson’s mare looks to be very straightforward – travelling and jumping well and appearing versatile ground-wise.
At a bigger price, Princess Zoe could be the each-way pick. She started her hurdling career much later in life than many of the runners in this, but she was a very smart flat horse. She won the Group 1 Prix De Cadran in 2020 and had the class and stamina to finish second in the 2021 Ascot Gold Cup.
This is a race full of unknown quantities, but the answer might be the one staring us in the face. Luccia should win this fairly comfortably.
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