The Willie Mullins trained Getabird has dominated the ante-post markets for the 2018 Supreme Novices Hurdle since beating some useful rivals in a 2m novice hurdle at Punchestown during January.
However, a promising performance by Kalashnikov at Newbury suggests that the Cheltenham Festival opener may not be a one-horse affair.
Getabird can be currently backed at 9/4 to claim the crown as champion two miles novice hurdler and he is currently unbeaten in all four races under the guidance of Mullins. Yet it is worth noting that he has also raced just three times since winning a National Hunt Flat race back in December 2016 with a minor injury enforcing his absence from the 2017 Cheltenham festival.
Two victories from as many starts this season have confirmed Getabird as a worthy favourite for the ‘Supreme’, but his performances have been decent rather than spectacular, and he is expected to face one or two capable rivals at Cheltenham.
Kalashnikov has emerged as one of those potential rivals after winning the multi-runner Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. The Amy Murphy gelding was unbeaten in three starts under National Hunt rules until suffering a fourth length defeat behind Summerville Boy at Sandown earlier this year. Heavy ground was blamed for his defeat that day, but he produced a battling performance to win the Betfair in slightly better conditions.
Murphy is adamant that Spring conditions will be more beneficial for her gelding and the experience of racing amongst a large field of horses could be an advantage when competing at Cheltenham.
Among the other horses to consider for the opening race of the Festival is the Harry Fry trained If The Cap Fits who is unbeaten in all of his three hurdle races to date. The 6-year-old gelding is considered one of the more promising horses at the stable and with a preference for good ground. He followed victories at Exeter and Bangor by beating the Nicky Henderson trained Diese Des Bieffes at Kempton despite conceding weight to his rivals. The runner-up is a decent performer over the two miles distance and Fry is confident of a bold display from his horse at Cheltenham, and he is generally quoted at 7/1.
Nevertheless, as witnessed at the 2017 Festival, outsiders can win the ‘Supreme’ as Labaik proved when beating Melon at the generous odds of 25/1. Former flat horse Scarpeta could be a decent each-way bet if competing in the two miles event after comfortably winning a maiden hurdle in his previous appearance at Gowran Park. He won that race despite encountering unsuitable testing conditions. Mullins is expected to send the horse to Cheltenham, but the longer ‘Ballymore’ is another option.