Supreme Novice Hurdle Preview 2023: Facile Vega is a banker not a blowout

Facile Vega returning to the winners enclosure.
Daryl looks at the Irish and British challengers for the Supreme Novice Hurdle.

Daryl Carter is back with another Cheltenham Festival ante-post preview for Betfair, and this time tackles the Supreme Novice Hurdle and asks, where is the quality?

  • Facile Vega is the Cheltenham Festival Supreme winner

  • The British challenge is thin on the ground

  • Lack of depth means this is at the mercy of Mullins

The Supreme Novices' Hurdle is the opening Grade 1 National Hunt hurdle race at the Cheltenham Festival and is open to horses aged four years or older.

It is run on the Old Course over a distance of about 2 miles and ½ furlong, and there are eight hurdles to be jumped.

Vega set for facile success

Leading the market is last year's Champion Bumper winner Facile Vega 4/6. Willie Mullins' runner remains unbeaten in his short career, notching up six victories, including the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice at Leopardstown on his latest outing.

He has improved with each start over hurdles, with the latest effort a much better jumping display than his Fairyhouse debut over solid yardstick and stablemate Il Etait Temps 33/1.

That rival had been chasing home smart Triumph Juvenile winner Vauban last season and had an experience advantage. Still, he was no match for Facile Vega when the after-burners kicked in, approaching the final flight.

Facile Vega's form has worked out at every turn. Even this latest start at Leopardstown has seen the fourth Path D'oroux bolt up next time.

Understandably, plenty of people have tried to knock him on his Champion Bumper form, which was run in atrocious conditions, but he had so much in hand that day that it's folly to use that form against him.

One suspects that there is an even bigger performance to come from Facile Vega, and he gives the impression he is just warming up.

He has experience with this track, which provides him with a considerable advantage over the closest market rival, Marine Nationale 4/1, and he is clear on ratings.

The Dublin Racing Festival will provide more clues, but at this time, he looks like a banker for punters to get off to a flyer on the opening day.

Marine Nationale no push over

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Marine Nationale will head directly to the festival after landing the Grade 1 Royal Bond by a head over Irish Point as he took his unbeaten record to four.

The Royal Bond form is not typically the way to go for the Supreme Novice Hurdle, and with it being one of the earliest Grade 1's for Novices, it tends to be a lesser race than others throughout the season.

Still, Marine Nationale won this with a good bit in hand despite the winning margin of a head, but how strong the form remains to be seen.

Runner-up Irish Point 14/1 (who looks like a stayer to me) had the form reversed by the fourth Champ Kiely 33/1 in the Grade 1 Lawlor's Of Naas over 2 1/2 miles next time. The latter failed to give his true running in the Royal Bond having been too keen.

Path D'oroux also failed to give his running, having stopped quickly at the third last, and Ashroe Diamond had gotten within four lengths of the winner but not within nine of Facile Vega on her next outing.

Still, Marine Nationale is a danger to Facile Vega with an air of unknown quality about him, although his jumping will need to improve.

Tahmuras leads the weak British brigade

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Leading the line for the British is Grade 1 Tolworth winner Tahmuras 12/1, but his official rating of 138 (which is about right on the level he achieved at Sandown) leaves him plenty to find.

He has won four of his five starts, with his only defeat coming in a Chepstow bumper to L'Astroboy 40/1 - a horse that followed him home in a two-length deficit in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle.

Still, favourite and Champion Bumper fifth Authorized Speed 33/1 was found to have scoped badly on this and stopped very quickly in the home straight, running nowhere near the level of his previous course romp.

This Grade 1 form is not good enough.

It doesn't give confidence either that his previous Haydock win has seen the runner-up beat on his next two outings, the third beaten 27 lengths in a Grade 2 at Warwick and the fourth beaten off 125 in a handicap hurdle.

Saying all that, he is an impressive specimen, and further improvement could come from him. Still, on all the evidence, he has a mountain to climb.

Charlies Longsdon's Rare Edition 14/1 may not be the shortest price British runner in this field, but he ought to be.

He clocked a very useful time at Kempton to take his record to 4-4, and he gave the impression there is plenty more to come yet.

The handicapper has given him an official rating of 138 which means he has every right to be in this contest, having topped the ratings for 2m Novice Hurdlers in Britain.

He is very promising indeed and one of the few that would have no trouble defying that handicap rating if getting another run-in and heading to something like the County Hurdle.

The fact that the British have only acquired top ratings of 138 means it is surely an uphill task for them to tackle the Irish in this Grade 1 contest.

Best of the rest

High Definition 16/1, a once useful, albeit disappointing, flat performer, made a good start to life over hurdles for Joseph O'Brien when scoring in good time at Leopardstown. Still, his jumping out to the right means he will hold little sway in this contest should that theme continue.

Willie Mullins' unbeaten Impaire Et Passe 14/1 looks as though he will play a strong hand in any race he turns up in, but the Ballymore Novice Hurdle would be the favoured race if putting in an educated guess along with Gaelic Warrior 16/1.

Willie Mullins' Il Etait Temps 33/1, who is now syndicate owned, has plenty to find with Facile Vega, but he has place sound place claims. His experience of the festival last term will be an asset.

The Verdict

Punters can get off to an excellent start here with Facile Vega head and shoulders above anything else in this field at the time of writing.

He is the best of a below-par Novice crop this season that is not hitting the figures we are used to seeing.

Anything recording a rating of 150 plus should be firmly in the mix at the business end, and Facile Vega is the only one in this field that has done so.


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