For many racing fans, the most exciting race at the Cheltenham Festival is the opening event, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The reason? It’s the first race of the four-day festival, and it is the culmination of weeks and months of build-up. The Supreme is the race associated with the “Cheltenham Roar”, the great bellow that rises up from the crowd to herald the action getting underway. The Gold Cup might be more prestigious, but the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the race that every fan has marked on their calendar.
And yet, this year there is the likelihood that no “Cheltenham Roar” will greet the opening race as fans might not yet be allowed back to live sporting events in the UK. At the very best, we might be looking at a much-reduced crowd compared to the nearly 70,000 spectators that pack into Cheltenham Racecourse for each of the four days. In light of that, the racing itself will have to make up for the lack of atmosphere.
Trainers Mullins and Fry aim for the Supreme
But there is every reason to believe that – whether there are fans in attendance or not – the festival can get off to a bang this year, as the Supreme is shaping up to be a tremendous contest. As is ever the case in racing, an event like this is at its most exciting when two rivals shape up to battle it out. And, much of the jumps racing world is buzzing about two novice hurdlers set to collide in the 2021 Supreme – Appreciate It and Metier.
Willie Mullins’ 6-year-old star, Appreciate It, is the ante-post favourite, coming in at 9/4 with MansionBet. But there is a lot of appreciation for Harry Fry’s Metier too, who has ripped it up over the Christmas period and seen his odds slashed to 6/1. Both runners are tipped to have huge success over the coming years, but the first real test of their class as elite hurdlers will come when they clash on Tuesday 16th March.
Appreciate It has arguably had the more impressive showing of the two so far, but only just. He won the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown just after Christmas, finishing 9 lengths ahead of Irascible and nearly double that distance again over the usually-brilliant Ballyadam. Appreciate it also has experience at the Cheltenham Festival, finishing second in the Champion Bumper last year. The Supreme is a different kind of race, of course, but the run out at Prestbury Park will serve him well.
Metier can defy the odds if the conditions suit
As for Metier, some believe, including his trainer Harry Fry, that he has the makings of a future superstar. He won the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown earlier this year, just like Summerville Boy did before going on to win the 2018 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. We should note, however, that this was on heavy ground. When you learn all about Cheltenham Racecourse, you’ll notice that the opening race is usually run on good-to-soft ground unless there has been particularly inclement weather. Still, Metier is three from three since switching from the flat, and there is every reason to believe he can rattle Appreciate It in this highly-anticipated match-up.
Nevertheless, this is horse racing, and there can always be a surprise. The previously-mentioned Ballyadam has more to offer than he showed back in Leopardstown in December, and he can be found at 12/1 in the ante-post markets. But this has the feeling of a two-horse race, featuring two runners that have not yet become household names. But if they continue on their current trajectory, that will change. A keen contest between the pair in the Supreme could also give the 2021 Cheltenham Festival a much-needed boost and set the scene for four spectacular days of racing.