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For The Record: Top novice races offer mixed bag of aces and jokers.

Byline: John Randall

THE Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle are the championship events of their type at the Cheltenham Festival but they are unreliable guides to the future.

The two races seem natural proving-grounds for future stars, but each has been won by only one subsequent Champion Hurdle winner-Bula and Istabraq respectively.

The shorter race was inaugurated as the Gloucestershire Hurdle in 1911 and was initially for hurdlers who were maidens at the time the entries closed, rather than at the start of the season. It was run in two or three divisions from 1946 to 1971, was renamed the Champion Novices' Hurdle in 1974, and has been the Supreme Novices' Hurdle since 1978.

Bula is the best horse ever to win the Gloucestershire/Supreme Novices' Hurdle, as well as the only one to win both that race and the Champion Hurdle. Wrack, Stroller and Browne's Gazette also won the novice event and became the champion (i.e. top-rated) hurdler, while Saffron Tartan, Buona notte, Flyingbolt, L'Escargot, Bannow Rambler and Buck House won the race en route to fame over fences.

Bula was the best novice hurdler of 1969/70, when he breezed home by six lengths in a division of the Gloucestershire Hurdle, and won the next two Champion Hurdles. Fred Winter's ace, who had a dazzling turn of finishing speed, won the first 13 races of his career and later developed into the top steeplechaser in Britain.

Wrack was the champion hurdler in his novice season, 1913/14, when his ten-length victory in the Gloucestershire Hurdle was the last of five consecutive wins.

At the time, hurdling was a minor branch of the sport-the Champion Hurdle was not run until 1927-and Wrack was a stone inferior to the top hurdlers of today. Nevertheless, he was the champion again in 1914/15 and became a leading sire in the USA.

Vincent O'Brien won ten divisions of the Gloucestershire Hurdle in eight years (1952-59), one of them with Stroller in 1954. As related here last week, Stroller was beaten a head in the following year's Champion Hurdle, and his win in the Spa (now Stayers') Hurdle in 1956 made him that season's champion hurdler.

Browne's Gazette romped away with the Supreme Novices' Hurdle by ten lengths in 1984 and was the champion hurdler the next season by virtue of a spectacular victory over Desert Orchid and See You Then in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

He would probably have beaten See You Then in the Champion Hurdle had he not swerved badly at the start and lost many lengths.

IN ADDITION, Golden Cygnet was better than most champions in 1978, when his stunning 15-length triumph in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle was the best performance ever seen in the race.

He was about to beat Sea Pigeon and Night Nurse in the Scottish Champion Hurdle the following month when he fell at the final flight and broke his neck.

Golden Cygnet was the best novice hurdler in racing history, but the average Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner needs to improve by much more than a stone in order to reach championship standard.

For various reasons, most winners of the race never fulfil their promise. Some, like Golden Cygnet and French Ballerina (1998), are killed soon after their moment of glory; many more have training problems; some reach their peak as novices and never improve; and some are sent straight over fences.

Even those who make significant progress can struggle in open competition. Some Supreme Novices' winners improve by more than a stone in the next 12 months but are still unable to reach a place in the Champion Hurdle.

It is entirely in keeping with the glorious uncertainty of the sport that the best horse ever to run in the race, Comedy Of Errors, was second to Noble Life in 1972, and that another subsequent champion, Granville Again, was second to Destriero in 1991.

The table below is a classification of Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle winners since 1972, when the penalty clauses were dropped from the conditions of both races and they became weight-for-age events.

Some of the earlier winners, like Beau Normand (1961), owed their success to the weight they received.

The winners are assessed on the best of their career performances over hurdles, which, in many cases, means their form in later seasons.

The classification does not take into account form on the Flat-Sondrio won a Grade 1 race in the USA, and Montelado and Monsignor the Champion Bumper-or over fences.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 4, 2002
Words:759
Previous Article:In brief.
Next Article:For The Record: Istabraq easily the leading winner of the SunAlliance.


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