All you need to know about the opening race at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday 15 March.
When and where can I watch it? 1.20pm on Tuesday 15 March, live in stunning HD on Racing TV.
What Grade? Grade One. What Course? Old Course. What Distance? 2m 87 yards (8 hurdles)
What Prize Money? £92,000 What Age restrictions? For 4yo+
What Weights & Allowances? 11 st 7 lb (5yo+), 10 st 13 lb (4yo). Allowances, mares 7lb
Sponsor: Sky Bet
KEY STATISTICS AND TRENDS:
Appreciate It (8-11F) struck at short price most recently but this race has not been great for favourites as a whole lately, as only three have won in the past 14 renewals. However, only a couple of those winners have started at longer than 12-1. The longest-priced winner was Arctic Kinsman at 50-1 in 1994, while the 2007 victor Ebaziyan is one of two 40-1 shots to have scored. The shortest-priced winners at 4-9 were Tsaoko in 1950 and Flyingbolt in 1964. Favourites and joint-favourites have been successful 11 times in the 49 runnings since 1972.
Nicky Henderson tells Lydia Hislop about Shishkin's win in 2020
Five and six-year-olds dominate and all bar seven winners since 1972 have fitted into that age bracket. Appreciate It was the first seven-year-old to triumnph since Captain Cee Bee in 2008.
The overall breakdown by age since the race was run as single division in 1972 is as follows: 4yo - 2 wins, 5yo - 18 wins, 6yo - 24 wins, 7yo - 3 wins, 8yo - 2 wins.
Four of the past nine winners have run in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on their previous start. Five Tolworth winners in the past dozen years have taken part and two - Noland and Summerville Boy - have won.
Beware the Betfair Hurdle
Eight Betfair Hurdle winners have run in the race in recent years but none have won. Soaring Glory could not fill the places in the latest running despite the smallest field in Supreme history with just eight runners.
Ten of the past 24 winners have been trained in Britain, with Ireland holding sway with 14.
Look to the future:
It's not always the winner who proves to be the finest horse, with Best Mate and Sprinter Sacre both placed. The likes of Altior, Douvan and Brave Inca managed to win it.
Leading the pack is Willie Mullins with seven winners since Tourist Attraction won at the trainer's first attempt in 1995 and he has scored five times in the past nine years with Champagne Fever, Douvan, Vautour, Klassical Dream and Appreciate It. He also trained Ebaziyan in 2007. Added to those successes, Min and Melon were the runners-up in 2016 and 2017.
Nicky Henderson has won the Supreme Novices' Hurdle four times with River Ceiriog in 1986, Flown in 1992, Altior in 2016 and Shishkin last year. Binocular, Spirit Son, Darlan, My Tent Or Yours and Josses Hill also hit the bar in second, while he has also saddled seven thirds. Noel Meade has struck twice with Sausalito Bay in 2000 and Go Native in 2009, while he also sent out Wild Passion to finish second in 2005.
Seven of the past eight winners have gone into the race with an official rating of 150 or more. Last year's winner Appreciate It was rated 153.
Before 1972, the most successful jockey was Tommy Burns, who landed seven divisions between 1955 and 1959. Since the race ceased to be divided, Ruby Walsh leads the way with six wins (2006, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2019).
The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the traditional curtain-raiser of the four-day Cheltenham Festival and receives a lusty roar from the packed grandstand when the tapes go up.
It dates back to 1946 and was known as the Gloucestershire Hurdle until 1974. On many occasions it would divide, allowing the great Vincent O’Brien to register 10 wins during an eight-year spell in the 1950s.
Past winners have usually ended up as top hurdlers, such as Bula (1970) and the ill-fated Golden Cygnet (1978), but a Grand National and dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner L’Escargot (1968) is also on the roll of honour.
The fine record of Irish trainers in the Supreme has been maintained by Willie Mullins, who has the best results in modern times with seven winners to date in Tourist Attraction (1995), Ebaziyan (2007), Champagne Fever (2013), Vautour (2014), Douvan (2015), Klassical Dream (2019) and Appreciate It (2020).
Recent renewals of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle:
2021 - Appreciate It
Appreciate It (8-11F) lived up to his pre-race billing with victory by a remarkable 24 lengths in the Festival curtain-raiser for jockey Paul Townend, trainer Willie Mullins and owners the Masterson family.
The imposing seven-year-old assumed the lead from the front-running For Pleasure before the second last and powered up the hill from stablemate Blue Lord, who looked booked for second before coming down at the last. Ballyadam (6-1) came through to finish a distant runner-up, with For Pleasure taking third at 40-1.
“I couldn’t believe that he won so easy,” said Mullins.
“The way he finished today he looks as good as any of our previous winners of the race – it was a Vautour-like performance.”
2020 - Shishkin
Shishkin edged out Abacadabras by a head after a thrilling finish. A field of 15 went to post, with the Willie Mullins-trained Asterion Forlonge sent off the 9-4 favourite.
The grey made much of the running under Paul Townend, but jumped increasingly violently to his right, impeding some of his rivals, then at the second-last flight Elixir D’Ainay exited just as he had hit the front, bringing down Captain Guinness in the process.
Shishkin himself had anything but a trouble-free run but answered every call from Nico de Boinville to prevail. The winning rider said: "It wasn't a very nice experience, to be honest - everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It just shows what a fantastic horse this is going forward - he has got so much ability, and I'm looking forward to him going chasing."
2019 - Klassical Dream
Klassical Dream (6-1) provided Willie Mullins with a record sixth victory in the race.
The five-year-old, ridden by Ruby Wash, was keen to post and caused a false start with his eagerness to get on with the job but it didn't stop him powering home from the Olly Murphy-trained pair of Thomas Darby (28-1) and Itchy Feet (25-1) finished second and third respectively.
"He was well within his own cruising speed," Mullins said. "He looks a real good one on this type of ground. He is a very good horse."
It was a poignant triumph part-owner Joanna Blackman had some of her husband's ashes with her at the course. He had died in the summer.
2018 - Summerville Boy:
Summerville Boy recovered from a couple of late blunders to stay on strongly and deny Kalashnikov close home.
He looked to have lost all chance when he almost came to grief at the second last but somehow managed to stay on his feet and record his second success at Grade One level.
Willie Mullins' Getabird was sent off the 7-4 favourite but only managed to beat four home.
Tom George was delighted with Summerville Boy's performance and was quick to praise winning-rider Noel Fehily after the race. He said:
"To give Noel Fehily his due he got beaten early on this season on him and he said then those that beat him never would again. All he needed was a strong pace to run at.
"Summerville Boy has taken a lot of switching off at home, his lad said he'd win a Grade One but he didn't tell me he'd win two!"
2017 - Labaik:
The scene of one of the biggest upsets for some time through this eccentric 25-1 chance.
The grey Labaik had a history of being difficult at the start - he had basically refused to race on his previous three outings - but consented to behave himself on the occasion that mattered.
Under teenage sensation Jack Kennedy, Gordon Elliott’s runner quickened away from the strong-travelling joint-favourite Melon in the final hundred yards to score by two and a quarter lengths.
Unfortunately, Labaik’s old habits came to the fore again at Punchestown and he has not been seen this season after sustaining an injury
2016 - Altior:
Nicky Henderson’s handsome gelding had quickly risen through the hurdling ranks, winning all four starts including a very impressive victory at Kempton over the previous Christmas.
The market favoured the Willie Mullins-trained Min, who followed Nico De Boinville’s mount as he surged into the lead going for home.
When push came to shove, though, Min could not cope with Altior’s speed and he marched an electric seven lengths clear at the line.
He was to maintain that momentum into an unbeaten novice chasing career, which included the 2017 Arkle Trophy.
2015 - Douvan:
Douvan already had a huge reputation as he kicked off another formidable Willie Mullins challenge, being sent off the 2-1 favourite on the back of only two previous starts in Ireland.
The support was to be justified as he tracked through the field and joined alongside the future Gold Cup hero Sizing John at the top of the home straight.
Once Ruby Walsh asked for an effort, the response was swift and he galloped away to deafening cheers up the Cheltenham hill, with his stablemate Shaneshill running on for a distant second.
Douvan thumped Sizing John many more times, including in the following season’s Arkle, but injury curtailed his attempt for a third straight Festival success in the Champion Chase.
2014 - Vautour:
Bought from France for owner Rich Ricci, Vautour had already started to look a bit special with an easy Grade One triumph at Leopardstown that February but faced a strong field and possible competition for the lead.
Any concerns were ill-founded as Ruby Walsh immediately found his way to the front and never moved from his position, seeming to have the race sewn up a long way from home and strolling past the line six lengths clear.
The white-faced gelding was even more impressive in the following year’s JLT Novices’ Chase and struck for a third time in the 2016 Ryanair, only to have to be put down after an injury on the gallops the following November.
2013 - Champagne Fever:
A relatively small field allowed Champagne Fever a relatively easy time for the first part of the Supreme, but it was certainly the case all the way to the line.
The popular grey, the previous winner of the Champion Bumper, faced a vintage group of rivals here and found himself deep in trouble when My Tent Or Yours and Jezki - who were to battle out the following year’s Champion Hurdle - loomed alongside approaching the last.
Somehow Champagne Fever found more on the run-in to edge them out by half a length and while he was not able to recreate that level over fences, he still won a couple of nice Graded races.
2012 - Cinders And Ashes:
Cheltenham is an unforgiving place and you cannot normally afford even one mistake in the cauldron of the Supreme.
Cinders And Ashes managed two of them and still won, making a howler down the back and another when Jason Maguire brought him to challenge at the last.
He failed to win another race in 10 more starts over hurdles and on the Flat.
2011 - Al Ferof:
A former Irish point-to-pointer, Al Ferof had chased home the brilliant Cue Card in the 2010 Champion Bumper and had struggled with issues before picking up a couple of minor novice hurdles in his build-up to Cheltenham.
A starting price of 10-1 advertised his chances in a field which not only contained Cue Card but Sprinter Sacre and Spirit Son, the ill-fated hurdler held in such regard by Nicky Henderson.
Ruby Walsh found enough in Al Ferof’s locker to get past that exalted trio, coming two lengths clear on the run-in, with John Hales’ grey going on to a fine career over fences which included a BetVictor Gold Cup and a Peterborough Chase.
2010 - Menorah:
The sparkling previous year’s Champion Bumper winner Dunguib was by this stage being regarded as the second coming, and was sent off the 4-5 favourite in a race with a host of runners sent off at more than 100-1.
Menorah, although only a 12-1 chance, was one of those under the radar but he was to benefit from a typically bold ride from Richard Johnson as he set off into the lead two from home.
While Dunguib and then the Betfair Hurdle winner Get Me Out Of Here threw down the gauntlet, Menorah found more and held off the latter by a head.
He was to become a thoroughly admirable jumper over the years and was retired at Sandown in 2017 after collecting a fourth Oaksey Chase.
2009 - Go Native:
Only a small Irish contingent of three had travelled for this race - headed by Champion Bumper winner and favourite Cousin Vinny - and while Go Native had proved himself in Graded company at Naas he had started off his hurdling career at Killarney the previous summer.
Noel Meade’s runner was one of so many to benefit from Paul Carberry’s patient handling, with the jockey smuggling him through the race and saving ground on the rail.
He perhaps hit the front too soon at the last, looking to be idling on the run-in, but holding the closing Medermit by a neck. Go Native was to collect next season's Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdles but disappointed as favourite in the Champion.
2008 - Captain Cee Bee:
Already seven but campaigned quite cautiously by trainer Eddie Harty, Captain Cee Bee was deserted by owner JP McManus’s retained jockey Tony McCoy in favour of Binocular.
It was those two who were to battle out the finish but the apparent second-string had looked in trouble out in the country with replacement jockey Robert Thornton having to get busy.
However, he began to regain his buoyancy and responded with enthusiasm, fighting off Binocular up the final hill and going two lengths away.
Although another Festival win eluded him, he was still a most reliable character over fences and hurdles long into the future.
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