Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Betting

Each March, the privilege of being the very first event on opening day at the Cheltenham Festival goes to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. This Grade 1 National Hunt race is open to novice hurdlers aged four years and older. It covers a distance of two miles and half a furlong over the left-handed turf of Cheltenham’s Old Course, featuring eight jumps along the way. The four-year-olds weigh in at 11 stone and the older horses at 11 stone 7 pounds, with an allowance of 7 pounds for fillies and mares.

When the race was inaugurated in 1946, it was called the Gloucestershire Hurdle. Until 1972, it was split into two divisions, and in 1946 and 1963 there were three separate races. The very first winner was Prince Rupert, trained by Ted Smyth and ridden by his brother Ron, who would go on to establish the renowned Clear Height Stables in Epsom in 1947.

In the 1950s, Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien dominated the race by recording ten victories out of 16 divisions over the course of just eight years (1952~1959). Horses finishing first in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle have gone on to great accomplishments, too, such as 1968 winner L`Escargot, which triumphed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1970 and 1971. Similarly, Bula (1970), Hors La Loi III (1999), and Brave Inca (2004) all went on to Champion Hurdle victories in subsequent years.

Jockeys have fared less well. In the nearly four decades since the race ceased to be divided, no one has ridden to victory more than twice. Since the 1993 and 2002 winner Charlie Swan has left the saddle to become a trainer, Irish rider Paul Carberry may have the best shot at the hat trick, having won aboard Sausalito Bay in 2000 and Go Native in 2009 as Noel Meade’s stable jockey.

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle has had a number of sponsors over the years, starting with Lloyds Bank in 1974, when it was known as the Champion Novices’ Hurdle. In 1978, Waterford Crystal took up the title role, and the current race name was adopted. Since 1990, several different sponsors have backed the event, including bookmaker william hill and the family of racehorse owner Andy Stewart. In 2010, the race was named the Spinal Research Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, honoring Andy’s son, Paul, who had suffered a spinal injury two years prior.

In 2011, the sponsorship changed hands once again, as Gibraltar-based bookmaker Stan James was unveiled as the race’s new backer. The Stan James Supreme Novices’ Hurdle carries a total prize purse of £100,000, or which about £57,000 goes to the winner.

Those who look for trends in horseracing will want to take note that favourites have a poor track record here. Only six have won in the most recent 31 runnings, and not a single one has crossed the finish line first since 2004. On the other hand, 12 of the last 14 winners had won their last time out, and 10 of the last 11 had raced in the preceding month and a half, so rest is not a big factor.

Irish-trained jumpers have always done well, with 38 winners in total. From 1977 to 1983, no steed from outside the Emerald Isle took home the prize, and seven of the most recent ten winners have been Irish mounts. Also, look for true novices to prevail. Out of the last 19 victors, eight had had only two prior runs over hurdles.

As the curtain rises on the Cheltenham Festival’s first race, a mighty cheer always goes up from the crowd—the so-called “Cheltenham Roar.” Look for 24 starters to vie for first place at the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle out of a field of 80+ entries. And expect the condition of the ground to be a crucial element in determining the winner. When the going is quick, flat-bred runners usually hold the advantage.

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