By Thomas Reynolds
Last Updated: 19th February 2019
The Betfair Hurdle has long been considered a potent trial for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, so it was little surprise to see Al Dancer trimmed in to 7/2 favourite in the betting for the latter after his commanding victory at Ascot.
However, despite the Grade 3 handicap’s status as a recognised trial for the opening race of the March spectacular, it could prove unwise to fall hook-line-and-sinker for the form.
The Betfair Hurdle/Supreme double has yet to be achieved
Hold on a minute, nobody’s denying the February race has been taken out by some excellent novices that’ve gone on to run big races in the Supreme that March – three of the last 10 winners have placed in the Cheltenham race, while a further three finished fourth or fifth.
Nonetheless, dating back to 1972, the first year in which the Supreme Novices’ ceased to be run in more than one division, no horse has claimed both races in the same campaign.
In that timeframe, more victors of the race have gone on to win the Champion Hurdle the following month, with Persian War and Make A Stand both achieving the feat.
Al Dancer’s post-race rating’s below that of best recent winners
Dai Walters’ hurdler has been put up 11lbs by the handicapper to 152 following his taking success in the rearranged race, a figure exceeded by both winners to finish second in the Supreme during the last 10 years.
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) February 17, 2019
Kalashnikov went up to 154 after victory at the race’s usual home of Newbury in 2018, while Nicky Henderson’s My Tent Or Yours was rated 162 after cruising through the 2013 edition, only to find Champagne Fever not for passing up the hill at the Festival.
Could the race being staged at Ascot this year make a difference?
Unlike Newbury (the Betfair Hurdle’s usual home) and Cheltenham, Ascot is a right-handed circuit, but it does have a more undulating nature in common with the Festival track.
With both the higher-rated winners that went on to find only one too good in the Supreme a month later ultimately outstayed by their conquerors, the fact that Al Dancer landed his Grade 3 at the more stamina-testing track could be a positive for his chances of landing a first ever big-race double.