Dame De Compagnie steps up in class as "Road To Cheltenham" kicks off on Sunday
Sky Bet's "Road To Cheltenham" kicks off for the fifth successive season at Cheltenham this Sunday with the £30,000 G2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle (3.30pm, 11 entries).
The extended two-mile contest is the first contest in Sky Bet's "Road to Cheltenham" which culminates with the £125,000 G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the opening race of The Festival at Cheltenham on Tuesday, March 13, 2018.
Nicky Henderson has saddled the winner of the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle twice in the last three years, most notably in 2015 with the outstanding Altior, who went on the win the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle and is now unbeaten over fences.
This year the champion trainer is set run filly Dame De Compagnie (5/4 Fav with Sky Bet). The four-year-old was a bumper winner in France and following her sale to leading owner J P McManus was an easy winner on debut for Henderson when taking a two-mile maiden hurdle at Uttoxeter on November 3.
Henderson said: "Dame De Compagnie is a lovely filly and will go for the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham on Sunday.
"She won very easily at Uttoxeter recently, although it probably wasn't much of a race."
Also engaged on Sunday is Slate House (Colin Tizzard, 7/4), who was sold for £260,000 at Cheltenham in March and made the perfect start to his career under Rules when winning at the course on October 27.
Tizzard could also be represented by Vision Des Flos (6/1). Owned by Ann & Alan Potts Ltd, the four-year-old won a valuable bumper at Punchestown in April for former trainer Robert Tyner and was third on his first start for Tizzard in the G2 Persian War Novices' Hurdle at Chepstow last month.
Two contenders with very good form in bumpers last year are Lalor (Richard Woollacott, 6/1), who scored in G2 company at Aintree in April and Western Ryder (Warren Greatrex, 8/1) who was fifth in the G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival and third to Lalor at Aintree. Both have run over hurdles already this season, with Lalor finishing second, beaten a short-head, at Exeter on October 24 while Western Ryder got no further than the third hurdle at Stratford on November 2 when the saddle slipped.
Bedrock (Dan Skelton, 12/1) was third in G1 company behind Defi Du Seuil at Aintree in April before going to land contests at Warwick and Bangor. He was last seen out when a staying on third in a conditions hurdle at Cheltenham's opening meeting last month.
Other contenders already on the scoresheet this season include Better Getalong (Nicky Richards, 20/1), who scored impressively at Ayr on October 30 and Whatmore (Henry Daly, 16/1), successful at Aintree and Bangor on his latest two starts.
Michael Shinners, Racing PR Manager at Sky Bet, commented: "Sky Bet is delighted to be sponsoring for the fifth successive season our 'Road To Cheltenham' series, which culminates with the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
"Sunday's race has thrown up some decent winners over the years, most notably Altior two years ago, who went on to win the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle. This year's race looks set to be a cracker with several contenders already on the scoresheet this season."
Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle, Sky Bet odds: 5/4 Dame De Compagnie; 7/4 Slate House; 6/1 Lalor, Vision Des Flos; 8/1 Western Ryder; 12/1 Bedrock; 16/1 Whatmore; 20/1 Better Getalong, Monty's Award, Summerville Boy; 250/1 Cassivellaunus
Each Way: 1/5 for first 3 places
The races in the Sky Bet's "Road To Cheltenham" for the 2017/18 season are:
Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle (Grade Two) - Cheltenham, Sunday, November 19, 2017
Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle (Grade Two) - Ascot, Friday, December 22, 2017
Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle (Grade Two) - Punchestown (Ireland), Saturday, January 13, 2018
Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices' Hurdle (Grade Two) - Haydock Park, Saturday, January 20, 2018
Sky Bet Supreme Scottish Trial Novices' Hurdle - Musselburgh, Sunday, February 4, 2018
Sky Bet Dovecote Novices' Hurdle (Grade Two) - Kempton Park, Saturday, February 24, 2018
Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade One) - Cheltenham, Tuesday, March 13, 2018