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The greatest ever winners of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

The runners' rounding the final bend in the first race of the Cheltenham Festival, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Our expert looks through the history books to list the four horses he considers to be the greatest ever winners of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

For three-quarters of a century, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle has been the traditional curtain raiser for the Cheltenham Festival. As the horde of burgeoning stars are sent on their way, the cheers that erupt from the capacity crowds packed inside Prestbury Park can be heard across Gloucestershire and the “Cheltenham roar” has become a synonymous feature with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in particular.

With the countdown well and truly on for this year’s meeting, we’ve taken a look through the horse racing history books to bring you four former Supreme winners the likes of Claimantakinforgan, If The Cap Fits and Getabird will be looking to emulate in the first race of the Cheltenham Festival.

L’Escargot (1968)

Owned by iconic figure Raymond Guest, L’Escargot arrived at the 1968 Cheltenham Festival as one of the favourites for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Dan Moore’s charge duly claimed victory on his first outing at Cheltenham, but it wasn’t until his switch to chasing that he established himself at the top of the sport.

In just his second season over fences, L’Escargot claimed Gold Cup glory at the Festival. 12 months later, he followed in the footsteps of legendary predecessors like Golden Miller, Cottage Rake and Arkle by successful defending his Gold Cup crown.

In 1972, Moore switched L’Escargot’s sights towards the Grand National, but his charge suffered an acrimonious fall at just the third fence. He produced two superb efforts to cross the line third and second in the following two seasons, but nobody gave Tommy Carberry’s mount much of a chance as he took on Red Rum in the 1975 renewal. 

A bad jump at Bechers Brook would have ended the race for lesser competitors, but L’Escargot recovered magnificently – serving it up to the most famous horse in history entering the home straight and streaking clear to claim a stunning, 15-length triumph. It was the fitting way to end what had been a magnificent career and if any of this year’s entrants could achieve even half of what L’Escargot managed, their trainers would be incredibly content.

Golden Cygnet (1978)

Some may argue this is a strange inclusion, considering Edward O’Grady’s hurdler was around for such a short space of time. Yet, there’s a sense of what could have been when you think about Golden Cygnet and he fully deserves a place in this list.

Golden Cygnet came from the first crop of legendary sire Deep Run and it was instantly clear he had an aptitude for jumping as he hacked up to win a maiden by 20 lengths. 12 days later, O’Grady threw him into the Grade One Slaney Hurdle at Naas, where he managed to hold off strong challenges from some dangerous rivals to claim a narrow win.

Upon arriving at Cheltenham, Golden Cygnet was lauded as a certainty and he carried an odds-on price to post. Niall Madden sat quietly in his saddle, as his incredible mount cantered through the race and pulled clear to win by 16 lengths – clocking a faster time than Monksfield would manage in that year’s Champion Hurdle.

Just weeks after his Cheltenham triumph, Golden Cygnet romped to victory in the Fingal Hurdle at Fairyhouse’s Easter Festival. O’Grady sent him on a triumphant mission to Ayr to cap what had been a tremendous novice hurdling campaign, but the trip to Scotland ended in tragedy, as Golden Cygnet suffered a fatal fall at the final hurdle.

Vincent O’Brien, one of the most successful trainers of all time, described Golden Cygnet as “the best hurdler I have ever seen.” High praise indeed and there’s no doubting Edward O’Grady’s charge could have been one of the greatest talents the sport has ever produced, had his life not been snatched away well before his prime.


Bula
(1970)

Fred Winter’s favourite son ended his novice hurdling campaign in excellent style at the 1970 Cheltenham Festival. He brought an unbeaten record into the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and none of his Festival rivals could deny him a sixth victory of the season, as they watched Bula cruise to a convincing victory on his Cheltenham debut.

Bula was born into an era when two-mile hurdling was at it’s best. Considering Winter pitched him in with great names like Se Pigeon, Persian War, Comedy Of Errors and Night Nurse on several occasions, Bula’s list of accomplishments between ’71 and ’73 is quite remarkable.

The Raincheck gelding claimed back-to-back victories in the Welsh Champion Hurdle, the Mill House Hurdle and the Kingwell. Paul Kelleway lead him into battle in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in ’71 and ’72 where the favourite looked a class above his rivals, claiming excellent victories on both occasions.

Once he had achieved all he could over the smaller obstacles, Bula was switched to chasing. It took him a little time to find his feet over fences, but Fred Winter’s charge managed to claim multiple Graded prizes during subsequent years, winning the Black And White Whiskey Gold Cup, the Fairlawne Chase and the Gainsborough Chase.

Despite his chasing success, Bula will always be remembered for his incredible exploits over hurdles - a division he was hugely successful within, when hurdling was arguably at its strongest.

Flyingbolt (1964)

By 1964 Derby winner Airborne, Flyingbolt was bred to succeed and he wasted no time in fulfilling his immense potential. A few weeks after trouncing his elders in the Irish Champion Hurdle, Jim Dreaper sent his budding star over to Cheltenham to take part in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. It was clear from a long way out that Flyingbolt was going to win and, after standing the last, he romped home to seal a lengthy victory.

Dreaper sent his charge over fences the following season and he returned to Cheltenham in the spring to land the Arkle. He claimed further success at Cheltenham that winter, winning the 1965 renewal of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, before making a successful transition to three miles when winning the Thyestes Handicap Chase carrying a stack of weight on his back.

Instead of treading down the Gold Cup path forged by stablemate Arkle, Dreaper decided to drop Flyingbolt back down to two miles as he entered the 1966 Champion Chase as the 1/5 favourite. A few weeks after claiming his third Cheltenham Festival crown with the minimum of fuss, Flyingbolt became the first and only winner of the Irish Grand National to carry a crippling burden of 12-07 to victory.

Illness brought Flyingbolt’s career to a premature end that summer. He bowed out unbeaten over fences and a three-time winner at the Cheltenham Festival. Stablemate Arkle may have hogged the limelight during that period, but Flyingbolt did his part in escalating Jim Dreaper’s standing in the sport and he will forever be remembered as a Cheltenham Festival great.

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The greatest ever winners of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Our expert looks through the history books to list the four horses he considers to be the greatest ever winners of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

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