There are now just two weeks to go until the curtain is raised on the “Greatest Show On Turf”; fourteen days until the famous Cheltenham roar goes up as the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival gets off and running. And on that note, let’s see if we can find the winner of that opening Festival contest – the 2012 William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle!

This year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle looks to be wide open. In the recent past, we’ve seen the likes of Dunguib and Cue Card come into the race as hot favourites, having already put down markers that suggested they would take all the beating, but nothing has emerged as a stand out Novice Hurdler so far this year.

In recent years, we have seen winners of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle priced as short as 7.00 (6/1), ranging right through to 41.00 (40/1). This reflects what a tricky race the Festival opener can be to solve, but equally, it should encourage us not to be put off if we happen to like the look of a perceived outsider. This is good news due to the lack of proven form in the 2012 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle field; the fact that we’re looking more for a potential improver, than a horse with form in the book.

So what trends can be found by analysing past winners of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle? Certainly nothing can really be gleaned from looking at the ages of the past ten winners; it’s true that almost all of them were aged five or six (three winning five year olds and five six year olds) but then so were the vast majority of the runners – almost 80% in fact – which represents a fair share of the winners.

We do need to find a pretty lightly raced horse though and preferably one who is on an upward curve, as all ten of the last ten winners of the Cheltenham Festival’s opening race had run in between two and four races between the end of August and the Festival itself, with nine of those ten winners having won at least half of those races, and eight out of ten having won last time out (with all ten having at least placed).

Another trend of importance is that eleven of the last twelve Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winners had run their final preparation race no more than 45 days before the Cheltenham Festival itself. There are a few horses still amongst the 61 strong field due to run in the coming week, so it’s important to bear this in mind.

The 2012 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle will be a large field affair, so it’s crucial to find a horse with a physical presence as well as speed. Experience of conquering large fields will be an advantage, a point backed up by the fact that the last eleven Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winners had all turned up to the Cheltenham Festival with at least one victory in a sixteen runner field (or larger) to their name.

As mentioned earlier, the winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is often a horse with potential, rather than one with good form already in the book. Looking at the official ratings of the past seven winners, one had no rating but the others were marked 136 to 147. Going back to 1997, only one winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle was rated 143 or higher (from 22 attempts). All of this suggests we should be looking to swerve anything with a rating over 143, but anything lower than 136 is probably too low; unrated horses are acceptable.

Applying the above trends to the 2012 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle field can only leave one clear candidate, in my opinion – Alan King’s Montbazon. The five year old gelding won his Cheltenham Festival prep race in some style at Newbury a couple of weeks ago, beating the equally well fancied Supreme Novices’ contender Vulcanite (now a best price 26.00, SportingBet) by seven lengths.

The horse has run four times this season, kicking off with a third place finish in a bumper at Cheltenham, before finishing second on hurdles debut and following that promising start with back to back victories. Last season he raced three times, all in big field bumpers, winning an 18 runner affair and twice finishing second, in a field of 18 and 20.

The only trend he falls down on is his official rating, which is now 144 after his recent Newbury success. We said that only one horse rated 143 or greater has won since 1997, but his official rating is only 1lb higher than our cut off point so I’m happy to take a chance – especially at a best price of 13.00 (BoyleSports, Stan James, William Hill).

An interesting alternative is Nicky Henderson’s Tetlami (best price 17.00, LadbrokesWilliam Hill). The six year old is three from three this season over hurdles and only narrowly falls down on two trends. Like Montbazon, he is rated a fraction too high (official rating 145) and he has never won in 16 strong field. He has however won a 15 runner bumper and crucially, it came at Cheltenham.

Advice:

The William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Tuesday 13th March 2012, 13:30

Montbazon (Each-Way) @ 13.00 (BoyleSportsStan JamesWilliam Hill)
Tetlami (Each-Way) @ 17.00 (LadbrokesWilliam Hill)