Al can send punters dancing into the Cheltenham Festival

The traditional Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, is now just around the corner. The Cheltenham roar is one of the greatest sounds in sport, but it can be all the more enjoyable if you are roaring home the first winner of the week, and backers of Nigel Twiston-Davies’ six-year-old Al Dancer have a great chance of doing just that.

Al Dancer is unbeaten over hurdles, having won all four starts. He first came into view as a Supreme prospect when winning by 11 lengths in a two-mile handicap on the New Course back in December. The runner-up that day, Not That Fuisse, backed up the form next time out by winning at Taunton. Al Dancer, meanwhile, was to be aimed at the valuable Betfair Hurdle next as his preparation for the Cheltenham Festival. Nigel Twiston-Davies had to be patient with the race having been put back a week and switched from Newbury to Ascot as a result of the equine influenza outbreak.

At Ascot, Al Dancer started as the 5/2 favourite for the ultra-competitive 14-runner handicap. Apart from one small error three out, he gave his backers little cause for concern. After travelling supremely well, he challenged between the last two and quickened up, going to the last to win by a comfortable 3¾ lengths. Twiston-Davies won the Betfair Hurdle in 2017 with subsequent Supreme fourth Ballyandy, but Al Dancer carried 7lb more in his success and won with more in hand.

The 2018 Betfair winner Kalashnikov went down by just a neck in the Supreme, carrying less weight than Al Dancer did at Ascot. Most horse racing guides, including myracing’s guide to picking winners at Cheltenham, agree that the hustle and bustle of the Betfair against seasoned campaigners seem to be a great way to prepare novices for the unique test of the Supreme, which is generally a race run at breakneck pace and often with a huge field.

Runaway course winner Fakir D’Oudairies looks like he may be rerouted here as Joseph O’Brien has the Festival banker for many in the Triumph, and if that is the case he would be the biggest danger. Al Dancer’s owner Dai Walters also has long-time Supreme favourite Angels Breath, who is also unbeaten. Nicky Henderson’s lightly raced five-year-old could yet return to the head of the market if he wins his final prep run. Willie Mullins won this race in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and he has two interesting contenders in Klassical Dream and Aramon, but neither appeal as being the sort of superstars he won the race with in years past.

Al Dancer seems to have it all; he travels very strongly so the pace of the Supreme should cause few issues, and he stays two miles well so the hill will hold no fears. He has won on ground ranging from good to soft and jumps very soundly for a novice, so everything points to him being very hard to beat for the curtain raiser.


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