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Cheltenham Festival 2012 

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By Dylan Jenear ValueChecker

Simonsig Should Take High Rank in the Supreme
21/02/12

In contrast to the last three renewals of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, this season’s running of the original Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser lacks a dominant force in the ante-post market with, at the time of writing, most bookies going 7-1 or bigger the field.

Simonsig
© Racehorse Photos

Simonsig

For many punters that attended the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Festivals, they were holding their head in their hands after the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Indeed, Cousin Vinny and Cue Card were warm orders in ’09 and ’11 respectively, only to come up short, while Dunguib was sent off at 4-5 when third in 2010. The traditional roar from the crowd was in evidence when the race commenced in each of the year’s in question, but it was the bookmakers doing most of the roaring in the immediate aftermath.

Steps To Freedom
© Caroline Norris

Steps To Freedom
Generally speaking, this Grade 1 contest has been a happy hunting ground for Irish raiders: seven of the last 11 winners have hailed from the Emerald Isle. However, Messrs Hobbs and Nicholls have managed to thwart challengers from across the pond for the last two seasons, with Menorah and Al Ferof prevailing in 2010 and ’11 respectively. The Irish will no doubt fancy their chances of regaining the winning thread this season, as Dermot Weld’s Galileo’s Choice and the Jessica Harrington-trained Steps To Freedom are both to the fore in the ante-post betting. Of that duo, the Wikis suggest that the former is the pick.

With unexposed novice hurdlers, there is invariably less concrete date to go on in the context of Wikis but, as these innovative bite-sized pieces of information point out, Nicky Henderson usually unleashes at least one classy novice in the Supreme, and this time around Simonsig looks poised to be the No 1 contender from Seven Barrows in Lambourn. Both he and another British-trained contender, Cinders And Ashes, who represents the Donald McCain yard, ensure that victory for the Irish will be anything but a formality.

Though without a winner in the race since Flown emerged victorious in 1992, Henderson has consistently gone close in the race, with no less than seven of his charges reaching the frame in the Supreme Novices’ since 2003. Indeed, Henderson has been knocking on the door – pretty loudly – and this season’s renewal looks pretty open, so Simonsig may well provide his trainer with a deserved success in a race that he clearly likes to target.

The only reverse Simonsig has suffered in completed starts to date was when chasing home Fingal Bay in a Grade 2 at Sandown. The latter is an extremely exciting prospect and remains unbeaten, having subsequently landed the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury. Furthermore, Simonsig was a mile clear of the third, Barbatos, easy winner of a good novices’ event since. Consequently, his form is arguably at least as strong as anything any of his rivals will bring to the table come March 13.

Another factor in the selection’s favour is his stamina. The last two winners of the Supreme Novices’ were proven beyond 2m: Menorah landed a bumper over 19f and Al Ferof had scored in a 3m point to point prior to landing this race. Simonsig is also proven over farther, but he does not appear to be short of speed by any means, whilst the fact that he is a strong traveller and possesses a sound hurdling technique are attributes that will stand him in good stead. He rates a rock-solid each-way bet at 8-1 (on offer with Stan James and Sportingbet at the time of writing).

With regard to Cinders And Ashes, as the Wikis indicate, his best form has come on flatter, sharper tracks. Both he and one of the aforementioned chief protagonists from Ireland, Steps To Freedom, will be of more interest if turned out again at Aintree in April.

Recommendation: Simonsig (each-way)

 

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