With just a week to go until the start of the Cheltenham Festival 2021 Tony Calvin discusses the antepost betting on the opening Supreme Novices Hurdle...
"Naturally testing ground, should it materialise, will play very much to the strengths of the Supreme favourite Appreciate It, all of whose form has come on soft or worse."
It feels like I have thrown more darts at the Supreme than Bill Werbeniuk used to have pints before an early-morning start at the Crucible (those of the younger generation should Google away, as the Canadian quaffing at 10am live on BBC really was something to behold in the 80s), but I increasingly like the cut of Soaring Glory's jib.
To be fair, I have only had two serious ante-post arrers at the race.
The 33/1 about Ngolo was about as bad it gets, but all is not lost on the other double-digit play on Irascible, even if he was soundly beaten by Appreciate It again last time.
Hopefully, more on him next week, though there remains a possibility it could be in relation to the County Hurdle. Either way, I think there is plenty more to come from him when they get the tactics right.
But back to the Festival-opener.
Remember - Non Runner Money Back
I make no apologies for dissecting this race again here as it is important on so many levels, as much to bookmakers (who often roll out every offer under the sun on the race) as to punters desperate to get off to a winning start.
The first thing to say is that the race is in danger of falling apart a touch, and could continue to do so.
We have lost live outsiders Thedevilscoachman and Dreal Deal in recent days - and I bet a few trainers are glad that Dan Skelton took impressive Kelso winner My Drogo out of the race last month - and there could be plenty more to follow suit.
Blue Lord (he has shortened up for this race on the exchange in the last 24 hours, though his price has been yo-yoing for weeks) , Third Time Lucki and Betfair Hurdle runner-up Fifty Ball could be County Hurdle-bound - as indeed could the aforementioned Soaring Glory and Irascible - and at the moment there is no suggestions of any of the juveniles being supplemented for the race.
And there is certainly no talk of Bob Olinger being switched from the Ballymore.
I think that horse could be tailor-made for the Supreme given the zest with which he travels.
The Betfair Sportsbook are offering 12/1 Non Runner Money Back (NRMB) on Bob Olinger for the two-miler, which seems ludicrous to me given he would be a 3/1 chance tops if they changed their mind. Maybe, even favourite.
Okay, you are a 1/33 poke to just get your money back, but even so. That 12s is what NRMB is made for, if you don't mind tying up your funds for a week.
The second point to say about this race, and indeed the Festival in general, is that Cheltenham is going to get pretty wet this week if the forecast is accurate.
The track has turned testing after very little rain this season so, while the Fez will be run on fresh lines, we could easily be looking at soft for the opener.
Not so long ago, people were talking about necessary watering. And we may yet get it, as we all know about the accuracy of forecasts, and to be fair it isn't set to be torrential in the coming days.
Appreciate It is a worthy favourite
The third aspect to note is that naturally testing ground, should it materialise, will play very much to the strengths of the Supreme favourite Appreciate It, all of whose form has come on soft or worse.
I genuinely don't think I have seen anyone put him up for the race, even though he has continued to shorten recently, hitting a low of 2.546/4 on Tuesday morning. I bet a few of those would-be layers were gutted to have still been in their pit when he hit that low!
Of course, he should top the market.
He was second in the bumper here last season and comes here on the back of two Grade 1 successes, the latter seeing off Ballyadam and Blue Lord on the most recent outing (Irascible beaten nine lengths in fifth) but does he scare you in the manner of a Douvan or a Vautour?
The answer has to be no at the current 7/4 on the Exchange, but every horse has a price where they become backable, so watch this space.
Appreciate It is currently nowhere near that level yet, and nor is second favourite Metier at around 6/1 on the Exchange.
The latter has an impressive profile as a 90-rated Flat recruit who is three from three in this sphere but the substance of his Grade 1 Tolworth win is highly questionable - the runner-up was well beaten off a mark of 136 in the Betfair Hurdle and the third was beaten in a Taunton novice next time - for all he won by a breezy 12 lengths. And, looking at his record, flat and jumps, he could need it soft, too.
Betfair Hurdle winner could be the one
Ballyadam is obviously a leading candidate given the way the Grade 1 winner travelled into the race when second to Appreciate It last time, but I keep on coming back to Soaring Glory, who is available at 9.417/2 win-only on the Exchange and 7/1 each way, four places, NRMB with the Betfair Sportsbook.
I mentioned him in these columns last month after his Newbury success.
He had a good back catalogue of form going into the Betfair Hurdle, which included an October defeat of an admittedly embryonic Bravemansgame at Chepstow, before running out a very impressive three-length winner in a very good time of that valuable handicap.
The win came off a mark of just 133, but I was very impressed and his trainer has previous of going down the Betfair Hurdle-Supreme route.
Jonjo O'Neill won the Newbury handicap with Get Me Out Of Here (by one-and-three-quarter lengths off a mark of 135, so very similar to Soaring Glory in that regard as well) in 2010 and that horse only failed by a head at Cheltenham.
His revised mark of 143 still gives him something to find (Appreciate It is rated 153) and soft ground would apparently be a fair concern to connections, but I couldn't put anyone off that 7s each way.
I will stop short of putting him up now, as I have a feeling we could even get bigger on the day, and maybe even five places with the Sportsbook if the field holds up.
I must admit I have had a few NRMB nibbles elsewhere at various points at big prices, and I will be happy to get my money back.
They include Pipesmoker and Micro Manage before their defeats last time out, but I often throw in a wild one on the day - I still get a few sarcy comments for putting up Holly Bush Henry at 100/1 in 2016 - and the likes of Benson and Guard Your Dreams could fit they bill if they run.
Either way, the Supreme is a big, big race for both backers and layers, and a fascinating one.