The greatest spectacle on the National Hunt calendar is just nine short weeks away. In the lead up to the Cheltenham Festival in March, I will be taking an in-depth look at some of the leading Irish protagonists who will be heading across to the Cotswolds, in the hope of returning home victorious.
With some of the major bookmakers now offering NRNB (non-runner no bet) on all 28 races, let’s hope this column can produce some winners so that your experience of the 2018 festival is not only enjoyable, but profitable too.
This years Stayer’s Hurdle, without sounding overly critical about those who still stand their ground, lacks that real star attraction. Do we have a Baracouda in the line-up? A Big Bucks? An Inglis Drever? We have unfortunately lost last year’s winner Nichols Canyon, who was all set to defend his crown before being fatally injured at Leopardstown over Christmas. Apple’s Jade tops the market with many of the firms but she looks all but set to go for the mare’s race which she won last year. Unowhatimeanharry has seemed to go backwards since his seasonal debut and it’s maybe because of that, the same connections are mulling over the idea of sending Yanworth back over the smaller obstacles with this race in mind.
That leaves us with the new kids on the block and there are plenty of them looking to etch their name in Cheltenham folklore. Sam Spinner has done nothing but improve this season and was a very impressive winner of the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. Last years Albert Bartlett winner Penhill, who we are yet to see this season, and L’ami Serge who could be a different proposition back on better ground. News also broke today that Finian’s Oscar could be aimed at the Cleeve Hurdle before possibly having a tilt at the Stayer’s Hurdle with trainer Colin Tizzard quoted in the Racing Post as saying, “We’re going to switch back to hurdles for the rest of the season, with the aim being to run in the Stayers’ Hurdle”.
However, I am hoping it’s the Jessica Harrington trained Supasundae who will come out on top of this three mile contest.
Sixth in the Cheltenham Champion Bumper behind Moon Racer in 2015 when trained by Henry De Bromhead, Supasundae was mainly campaigned over two miles in his first season hurdling and finished a credible seventh behind Altior in the Supreme Novices Hurdle. A switch to Jessie Harrington’s stable in Moone, Co Kildare, and the step up in trip seemed to work the oracle for this son of Galileo. He won the ultra competitive Coral Cup at last years Cheltenham Festival before going down by a length to Yanworth in the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree on his first try over three miles.
His first start of this season was an eye-catching third behind Apple’s Jade at Fairyhouse. Looking like he was going to finish well down the field when turning for home, getting short of room and stumbling badly, he ran on well to go down in many people’s notebooks as one to keep on the right side of. He again took on Apple’s Jade in the Grade 1 Christmas hurdle at the Leoparstown Christmas festival, narrowly losing out to Gordon Elliott’s superstar mare. Having had to make most of the running himself, Supasundae and his regular pilot Robbie Power looked set to take the honours as they bypassed the final hurdle, before Davy Russell gave a masterclass from the saddle to get his mount up close to the line. Apple’s Jade was in receipt of the seven pounds mares’ allowance which makes Supasundae’s performance all the more noteworthy.
When speaking about the narrow defeat to Apple’s Jade over Christmas and his chances in the Stayer’s Hurdle, Robbie Power said on his Boylesports blog, “We had to do a lot of work ourselves yesterday and he’s never had to make the running before, so he was having a good look around in front. It will suit him having a lead, last year he didn’t come into his own until the spring and he’s a lot stronger than he was so hopefully on good ground in March he can do the job in the World Hurdle” – sounds like I’m not the only one who is positive about the chances of this extremely talented 8 year old.
The Irish don’t have a great record in this contest however, with the Charles Byrne’s trained Solwhit and last year’s winner Nichols Canyon being the only two winners to be successful after crossing the Irish Sea since 1996.
In a stayers division that is more competitive than it is classy, I’m hoping that Supasundae can give the family of the late Ann and Alan Potts something to celebrate.
Article by Rory Fitzgerald.