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Briar Hill likely to swerve Supreme in favour of longer Cheltenham tests

| 06.01.2014

The annual game of second-guessing the Cheltenham 2014 targets of Willie Mullins’ myriad talented novices has become slightly easier after the Muinbeag miracle-worker suggested Briar Hill would be unlikely to contest the Supreme Novices at the Festival.

Already a proven Prestbury Park victor after running away with last year’s Champion Bumper under Ruby Walsh, the six-year-old remains entered in all the ‘championship’ novice hurdle events.

Mullins’ comments came in the wake of Briar Hill’s workmanlike success in the 2m4f Slaney Novice Hurdle at Naas.

The Champion Irish trainer told the Racing Post:

“He’ll get an entry in all three novice hurdles at Cheltenham but you would imagine he’ll go for either the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett.”

Briar Hill is now as long as 20/1 to complete a biennial double bagged by his Closutton colleague and fellow bumper king Champagne Fever last term with victory in the Supreme.

Indeed Coral’s Cheltenham ante-post betting seems to present itself as a fairly useful divining rod as to Mullins’ intentions for his charge, who remains unbeaten in five races under rules.

The son of Shantou, who is out of a mare by Bob Back (sire of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth), is currently a 14/1 shout for the Neptune Novices Hurdle.

However, the weight of money suggests that the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle looks his most likely destination at present as Coral make him a 7/1 co-second-favourite for the 3m test.

Between him and favouritism stands the deeply impressive King’s Palace, the 4/1 market-leader on the back of two wide-margin Cheltenham victories this term.

Whether or not it was the soft ground that accounted for the trouble Briar Hill had with disposing of two rivals at Naas, it wasn’t a performance that advertised a drastic turn of foot.

As such, with faster going more than likely by the time the Cheltenham Festival rolls around, the longer race seems a far more winnable assignment.