Last season’s crop of bumper horses looked the strongest for a number of years, possibly a by-product of the revert in fashion back towards top stables and owners looking for talent in Irish points rather than leaning already experienced French youngsters, and therefore there’s a number of animals with tall reputations to put on the line before they’ve make a hurdling debut.
Will the winner of the Supreme be one of these well-hyped prodigies, or is there something special lurking in a stable somewhere that none of us know about yet?
The biggest reputation of them all is probably possessed by Malone Road (14-1). Purchased by Cheveley Park after winning his point-to-point, hisrules debut at Down Royal saw him defeat Valdieu, considered good enough to run in the Ballymore by the Gigginstown team later in the season, before he took the scalp of the much touted Willie Mullins inmate Mt Leinster at Punchestown.
It’s easy enough to see why so many people are excited about this lad; he put both of his races to bed in only a number of strides, showing a remarkable turn of foot to pull clear of his rivals, but then managed to maintain his gallop and ended both races powering further away at the line.
Unfortunately, his season ended in early December due to a knee injury, and I’m always massively cautious when it comes to backing a horse without having seen them return from a spell on the sidelines, but given the visual impression he made, and the fact that there’s clear substance to his form, Malone Road remains one of the game’s most exciting prospects.
It is worth a small note, that he also features in the betting for some of the novice chases at the Festival, though surely a traditional hurdling route is more likely for him.
He’s joined at the top of the market by Willie Mullins’ Champion Bumper runner-up Blue Sari (14-1). Blue Sari didn’t make his debut on the track with much prior fanfare, but an 11-length was impressive enough for him to be bought by JP McManus, and only ¾s of a length worth of Envoi Allen denied him a Festival victory.
There’s clear reasons to mark Blue Sari’s performance that day up; he returned lame from the race, and is a year younger than most of his peers, so may be at an earlier stage of his development, though he showed no signs of immaturity at all last season. He’s clearly a lovely type and it’s not hard to envisage him taking high rank amongst this season’s novices.
Personally, I think that in the decade I’ve been a racing fan, I’ve not seen a bumper horse as complete as Envoi Allen (16-1). A big, physical specimen who cost Cheveley Park £400,000 following a point win, Envoi Allen was imperious in four bumper victories, culminating in the division’s championship race at the Cheltenham Festival.
Not only did he prove that he talent in abundance last season, he also showed a winning attitude when having to scrap his way to victory at both Leopardstown and Cheltenham, which to me is a huge plus, knowing that Envoi Allen is willing to get down and dirty if called upon to do so .
The thing I like most about Envoi Allen is that he gives me the impression that we won’t see the best of him until he’s 8 or 9 and jumping a fence, and that anything he achieves before then appears to be a bonus.
The fact that he’s as good as he is at this stage of his career suggests to me we could be dealing with a future Gold Cup horse, but that might mean the Ballymore could be more a suitable option for him in the short term rather than more of a speed test in the Supreme, given that he shapes like a future staying chaser and he’s out of a half-sister to Enda Bolger’s thorough stayer Auvergnat.
JP McManus also looks to have two more potential top class prospects in the shapes of Gypsy Island and Andy Dufresne (both 20-1).
Peter Fahey’s mare improved for each run last season and finished it off with a bloodless victory at the Punchestown Festival over Daylight Katie and Minella Melody, both very useful standard setters at that level, and like all of these, is a lovely prospect to hurdling with, though she also would have the Mares’ Novice Hurdle as an option if they wanted a penalty kick.
The latter, a £330,000 purchase from the pointing field, was carefully minded by Gordon Elliott and only made the track once last season, where he beat Willie Mullins’ useful Golden Spread at Down Royal. His price at the minute is probably based more on his tall reputation than anything he’s achieved on track, but given that his powerful connections seemingly think very highly of him, it would be no surprise if he were to take high rank this season.
The colours of Lloyd Williams are more commonly seen contesting the top flat races in Australia than in Irish bumpers, and given that Joseph O’Brien provided him with his first Melbourne Cup victory with Rekindling in 2017, it seems only right that Mr Williams chose to reinvest £410,000 of that prize money at Owning Hill in the shape of Dlauro (25-1). The winner of his sole point start in February 2018, Dlauro made his rules debut in a middling sort of race at Punchestown in May.
On paper he didn’t have too much to beat, though the second, third and fifth have won during the summer, and the race was practically a public schooling session for Dlauro, who I doubt would’ve known he’d even been in a race given the ease with which he won.
The shortest-priced British contender at this stage comes in the shape of Paul Nicholls’ Aintree Grade Two winner McFabulous (25-1). A half brother to Waiting Patiently, McFabulous has clearly always been held in good regard by the Nicholls team, given that he went off favourite for the first good Cheltenham bumper of the season following a debut win at Chepstow.
He flopped that day, but made amends when winning at both Newbury and Aintree later in the campaign.
The manner of his victories may not have been as clear cut as others, but the form of the Aintree bumper stacks up quite nicely and he looks like a talented, solid type to go to war with this season.