It’s up there with the parade before the hurling final. The ten minutes between the horses leaving the ring for the start of the Supreme Novice and the off simply bursts with anxiety and anticipation.
The famous roar is as much one of release as it is of excitement. For the fourth year in a row, the most likely winner comes from the Mullins/Ricci combination with win bidding to emulate Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan.
Min was favourite for this race long before he’d run in Ireland and in his two outings to date he absolutely destroyed his rivals – first in a Punchestown Novice in December and again in a Grade 2 at the same track a month later.
The rivals today are a different gravy especially Henderson’s Altior who looks like a solid and professional horse in the making. Min runs quite freely and in his races to date has taken it up early and just piled on the pressure by going faster and faster. If he can do this today in a field of this quality, on this going, on this course, then Carlow has yet another champion.
After Willie Mullins had suffered the double disaster of losing both Faugheen and Arctic Fire from the Champion Hurdle some of us fantasists wondered if he would upgrade Min from the Novice or even bring Douvan back to hurdling to defend the crown.
Rationality returned when it was remembered that all he had to do was reroute Annie Power from the Mares Hurdle to join Nichols Canyon and he would still have the first two in the betting anyway.
It cost €26,000 to supplement her for the race, but it certainly makes it a far more interesting contest and poses several intriguing questions which you wouldn’t expect of a 6/4 favourite this late in the day.
She hasn’t run over the minimum distance in over two years so the speed of the race on faster ground could be a surprise to her, especially against battle hardened rivals.
There is also the question of her traumatic fall this day last year and whether it has left any dent in her confidence on a track is has only won on once in three visits. These questions should encourage you to look deeper in a race brimming with each-way value.
Two of the more surprising aspects of the National Hunt Chase (4.50) is that Minella Rocco has ended up here instead of one of the classier novice chases and that he is still only rated at 143.
Bought out of a Tipperary Point to Point by JP McManus, reportedly for €300,000, he looked to have all the attributes to be dominant in his division after a really impressive novice hurdle career. But things haven’t gone smoothly.
Three extremely moderate runs before the New Year suggested that he may have lost his love for the game, but then in his last outing at Ascot he was a very encouraging second to Nicky Hendersons Vyta Du Roc, who is third favourite for tomorrows much higher quality Grade 1 RSA Chase.
If he is back to form and at last on his expected upward trend Rocco could have a lot in hand of some slow rivals today.