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The first day of the Cheltenham Festival, the first race and the first time you hear the Cheltenham roar is when the runners start on their way round the 2 mile 110 yards Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. It is the traditional curtain-raiser for the Cheltenham Festival and it is always a great way to get the Cheltenham Festival underway. Nothing gets the hairs standing on end like the noise of several thousand people cheering as the horses set off, and then it gets even better if and when the favourite puts its nose into the lead. Should the favourite, or one of the heavily backed runners win, the noise as they cross the line will be deafening – it is 12 months of anticipation let out over the course of a couple of minutes. There is nothing like it at the Cheltenham Festival, which is why the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle holds such a special place in the hearts of National Hunt lovers the world over.
Of course, it was not always known as the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. In fact, up until 1974, since its inception in 1946, it was known as the Gloucestershire Hurdle. However, the prerequisite for entry to the race was the same – the horse simply has to be a novice. If you’re not familiar with the term, that means that prior to the current season, the horse cannot have won a race over hurdles. Most of the time, this means that it is the first season over obstacles for the runner, and many times the horse has been a recent recruit from flat racing, or it is making the step up from Bumpers.
Over the years, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle has had some celebrated winners, with perhaps the most notable being Flyingbolt, which is considered, on paper, to be the second greatest National Hunt horse of all-time, behind the great Arkle. Other such luminaries are L’Escargot (conqueror of Red Rum in the 1975 Grand National and two-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner), Bula (two-time Champion Hurdle winner), Hors La Loi III (2002 Champion Hurdle Winner), and Brave Inca (2006 Champion Hurdle winner). So it is safe to say that many Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winners go on to bigger and better things, even if they do not manage to reach the heights of Flyingbolt.
For four-year-olds running in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, they are required to carry a weight of 10st 13lbs, while horses five years-old and older are required to carry 11st 7lbs, with fillies and mares receiving a 7lb allowance. While the weight advantage seems to favour younger horses, the last four year-old to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle was the great Hors La Loi III back in 1999. Before that, you have to go back 26 years to 1973, when King Pele won that year’s running of the race. So it is safe to say that the race tends to favour slightly older runners, with five-year-olds and six-year-olds having the best record.
While it might seem like the race favours speedsters, the fact that several Gold Cup winners have won or competed well in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle points to a combination of both. So, if you can find the speedster in the field that also looks like developing into a stayer, you should have a potent combination for a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner. This fact tends to be why ex-Bumper horses have had such good luck in the race, as flat horses tend to be bred for speed, while National Hunt horses have a good combination of speed and stamina bred and trained into them.
Ran in the past two months.
Won their last race.
Ridden near the front of the pack.