Sky Bet’s “Road To Cheltenham” gets underway on Sunday, November 18th, day three of The November Meeting at Cheltenham.
The £32,000 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle, staged over an extended two miles at 3.30pm, is the first of seven races in the “Road To Cheltenham”, which culminates with the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday, March 12th, 2019.
Sky Bet’s sponsorship deal with Cheltenham Racecourse commenced in the 2013/14 campaign and was recently extended for another five years.
Last season’s renewal of the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle was very informative, with Slate House seeing off Summerville Boy by three quarters of a length. Summerville Boy went on take the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle back at Cheltenham in March.
There are 11 entries for this year’s contest on Sunday headed by Itchy Feet (Olly Murphy), who is three from three so far this season, winning a bumper at Stratford on September 8th, followed by a Southwell novices’ hurdle on October 2nd and, on his latest outing, he made a successful transition to Listed class when successful at Kempton Park on October 21nd.
The four-year-old is one of two entries for Warwickshire-based Murphy along with five-year-old Thomas Darby, who is already a winner at Cheltenham this season, having taken a maiden hurdle at the course on October 26th, when scoring by three and a quarter lengths from Elixir De Nutz (Colin Tiizzard).
Olly Murphy revealed: “Itchy Feet came out of Kempton in good form and, with good ground in prospect, we are looking at running at Cheltenham this week.
“He led at Kempton when he won last time, but that wasn’t the plan. He had the least experience in the field, but he won well.
“It was a good performance and he is progressing with each run.
“He galloped through the line, he is only four and is still a big, raw baby. He is a good moving horse and wouldn’t want the ground to be too soft.
“Thomas Darby is another horse we are considering running at Cheltenham. He is also entered at Wetherby on Saturday.
“He is a big raw horse and did well to win at Cheltenham in October, which was a good performance.
“He doesn’t want the ground too soft and is a nice horse with a good engine.”
Another entry already on the mark this season is Anytime Will Do (Dan Skelton), who landed a maiden hurdle at Uttoxeter and a novices’ hurdle at Bangor in October.
Skelton said of the five-year-old: “Anytime Will Do is in good form at home and has come of his win at Bangor nicely.
“He has won nicely on both of his starts this season and jumped very nicely at Uttoxeter on his penultimate start.
“He seems to enjoy good ground and the race at Cheltenham on Sunday could suit.”
Other entries to have won last time out include Seddon (Tom George), who contested last season’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper and was an impressive winner on his hurdling debut at Stratford on November 1st.
Weather Front (Karen McLintock), a smartly-bred five-time Flat winner, won well at Hexham on November 9, while Colonel Custard (Nicky Martin) was a comfortable five-length scorer at Newton Abbot last month.
An intriguing contender is Ekayburg (David Pipe). The four-year-old won a bumper in France in October, 2017, and has been purchased by Cheveley Park Stud.
Benny’s Bridge (Fergal O’Brien), Normal Norman (John Ryan) and Two For Gold (Kim Bailey) complete the entries.
Michael Shinners, Racing PR Manager Sky Bet, said: “The Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Sunday kicks off Sky Bet’s ‘Road To Cheltenham’, which is now its sixth season.
“Last year’s race proved highly-informative, with the runner-up Summerville Boy returning to Cheltenham in March to land the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
“The entries for this year’s race look very interesting, with Itchy Feet already having scored at Listed level, while Thomas Darby won at Cheltenham last month and Seddon could not have been more impressive when successful at Stratford.
“Eight of the 11 entries won when last seen on a racecourse and a fascinating contest looks guaranteed.”