Another year, another Susannah and Rich Ricci-owned gelding seemingly with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at his mercy.
This year it is Min who looks to likely to have the remainder scrapping for the place money in the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival, but he could go off shortest of the lot.
The last three years have seen Douvan, Vautour and Champagne Fever carry Ruby Walsh, in the Ricci’s pink colours over the line in front, but none were as well fancied as this year’s candidate.
Min, following on from his breathtaking debut for Willie Mullins last month, lined up in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, the same race won by Douvan last year.
Travelling and jumping like a natural, there was rarely (if ever) a moment that he didn’t look like winning, and winning easily.
He did just that; quickening up well under Walsh, to score by nine-and-a-half lengths, with Attribution back in second.
The reaction from the bookmakers saw him cut from 5/2 to 9/4, but for punters that price was still too big, who forced Ladbrokes to go 7/4 before being trimmed further into 6/4.
None of Mullins’ last three Supreme winners were anything like as short in the betting at this time of year, with Douvan 5/2 at this stage, Vautour a massive 8/1, while Champagne Fever wasn’t even in the betting.
The grey was added as a 16/1 shot after winning the Deloitte Novices’ Hurdle at Leopardstown that February, a race that could be the final stop before a visit to the Festival for Min.
Whether he warms up there, or heads straight to Prestbury Park, it could be the same old story in the opener.
A whole different test in store for Kruzhlinin
While the Supreme is all about speed, the Grand National couldn’t be more different.
The gruelling four-mile-plus battle around Aintree only suits the toughest of the tough, and it could well be that we saw two of that calibre on show last Saturday.
First, Mountainous became the first horse to win two Welsh Grand Nationals since Bonanza Boy in 1988-89, in conditions that sorted the men from the boys.
The slog through the Chepstow mud saw the majority of the field call time some point before the final fence, but under Jamie Moore, Kerry Lee’s gelding was plugging on admirably.
A crack at the Aintree contest looks on the cards for the 11-year-old, but he would surely be unlikely to get his preferred soft underfoot conditions on Merseyside come April.
One horse that better ground would probably suit is Kempton scorer Kruzhlinin.
Making his first start for Philip Hobbs since leaving Donald McCain’s yard in the summer, the nine-year-old went from the front in the partnership with Richard Johnson at the Sunbury-on Thames track.
There was no pegging him back for the remainder of the field, as he bounded clear, despite jumping to his left throughout, to score by five lengths.
A return to Liverpool could well see him go closer than the 10th place he managed in the race last year, and has been added to the Ladbrokes market as a 33/1 shot.
Another Nicholls Triumph winner?
It’s been five years since Paul Nicholls saddled the winner of the Triumph Hurdle, and four since the Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle saw the victor emerge at the Festival, but the Ditcheat handler will be hoping both of those runs end in March.
Nicholls, who has saddled Zarkandar and Celestial Halo to win the Grade 1 at Cheltenham in the last decade sent out Adrien Du Pont for the contest in south Wales.
The 11/8 favourite certainly didn’t disappoint, with Nick Scholfield timing his effort perfectly to catch the gallant front-running outsider Chic Name.
Jumping the last, the pair were level, but the son of Califet had plenty in reserve to pull clear and win by two-and-a-half lengths.
Ladbrokes reacted by cutting the winner into 16/1 from 20/1 for the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival, with Paul Nicholls’ assistant Ton Jonason confirming that would be the plan after his Chepstow success.
“He is one of our more forward four-year-olds so he has put himself in the Triumph Hurdle picture,” he told the Racing Post after the race.
Whether the form of this weekend’s race will be strong enough to see off all comers at Cheltenham, remains to be seen, but the gelding certainly made an impression at the Monmouthshire track.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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