THERE is no better sound in racing than the roar that kicks off the Cheltenham Festival as the tapes go up for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Last year’s event was a top-class renewal with today’s Arkle favourite Champagne Fever, and leading Champion Hurdle contenders My Tent Or Yours and Jezki fighting out the finish.
Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins are the trainers with the best recent record, both winning it twice in the past eight years. And, according to the betting, it’s going to be between these two powerhouse stables again.
Irving is the 5/2 favourite with BetBright after his impressive win in the Dovecote at Kempton last time, and it’s impossible to ignore the claims of the six-year-old.
He is four from four over hurdles and is proven on all types of ground, so he must have a leading chance of adding to Nicholls’ tally.
However, he is yet to race left-handed over hurdles and you could argue that the form of his four wins isn’t great.
I’m also concerned that he has shown plenty of speed and this race is normally won by a pretty stout stayer. The better ground will make it easier for him to get home, but I generally prefer National Hunt bred-horses to flat-bred in the Supreme.
Mullins has an embarrassment of riches going into the Festival, particularly in the novice department where he has the first or second favourite in all six novice hurdles and chases.
And I expect him to start as he means to go on because on form VAUTOUR has to be the selection.
The five-year-old son of Robin Des Champs is yet to taste defeat for Mullins in three starts and he put The Tullow Tank firmly in his place in the Deloitte at Leopardstown last time.
That was a top-notch performance and with him showing his fighting qualities previously at Punchestown against Western Boy, he has all the necessary attributes for this test.
I’m convinced Vautour is the real deal and you should back him at 3/1 with BetBright or Paddy Power.
The former are offering a fantastic £30 risk-free bet for new customers on any race this week, while Paddy Power are offering money back if your selection finishes second, third or fourth.
The biggest threat to Vautour may actually come from his own stablemate, Wicklow Brave, who has also looked very good this season.
It would have been a hard decision for Ruby Walsh, but Vautour has been the better jumper so far and I imagine that is what swayed him.
Rich Ricci, the charismatic American owner, is set for a big week and securing back-to-back Supreme Novice wins would be the perfect start.
VAUTOUR 1.30pm Cheltenham