There have been some classic contests at Cheltenham down the years, some standing out in particular due to the appearance of multiple champion horses at once. The Champion Hurdles of the late 1970s, featuring Night Nurse and Monksfield, the two highest rated hurdlers ever, stand out, while in 1964, Arkle defeated Mill House in the Gold Cup, both of whom would subsequently rank as the leading duo in the history of staying chasers.
Champion Hurdles and Gold Cups are supposed to throw the best together, however. Sometimes, by sheer coincidence, the same generation of novices throw up an exceptional number who are capable of shock and awe.
The 2012 Arkle comes close as a contest of this nature. Not only was it won by the most glamorous 2-mile chaser ever in Sprinter Sacre but in behind, from second downwards, were Cue Card, one of the most popular and successful heroes of his generation, Menorah, who would win a Grade One the following month before adding four straight Oaksey Chases at Sandown to a long-lasting career, and Al Ferof, who had already won the Supreme and Henry VIII over obstacles before serially winning thereafter. Yet even this form pales in comparison to the 2016 Supreme Novices.
The winner needs no introduction. Altior is still unbeaten over obstacles, subsequently winning the Arkle in 2017 and the Champion Chase in 2018, jumping and bursting to life with an imperial excellence and elegance that has seen him go unmatched since this victory. For a record-breaking race you need a record-breaking winner for which Altior delivers the goods.
The runner-up, Min, chased him home in this year’s Champion Chase but up to that point, he’d only ever been beaten past the post by Altior (Simply Ned was only awarded victory against him in the stewards’ room post-race). He can also claim to be a Group One winner and has a chase rating of 167 which would usually see him clear of reasonable opposition.
Behind this duo, trailed in Buveur D’Air. Only good enough for third behind two novices he has won the last two Champion Hurdles in open company. He may not even have had to improve but has gone undefeated over hurdles since defeat two years ago. No more needs saying.
Further back, Tombstone is a former conqueror of Champion Hurdler Jezki at Grade Two level while Charbel won a handicap chase off 154 recently, suggesting he has a significant touch of class. Yet it is in seventh, eighth, ninth and 13th where more subsequent stars lay in wait.
The first of those, Supasundae, is now an Irish and Punchestown Champion hurdler at the highest level, defeating the “Machine” Faugheen in the first of those. He has also been a winner at the Cheltenham Festival having lifted the Coral Cup in 2017. Top class once more.
Just below him came Petit Mouchoir. Third in the 2017 Champion Hurdle he had previously won two Grade Ones in Ireland, beating the mighty Footpad in the latter of those. He has embarked on a career over fences but could continue to be hugely successful in either discipline.
In ninth was North Hill Harvey, a horse who beat the highly promising Sceau Royal over fences at Cheltenham as well as winning the Greatwood handicap hurdle and a Grade Two novice chase to boot. He tragically lost his life when running in the Grand Annual at this year’s festival, a crying shame as he had the potential to reach the top over the larger obstacles.
Last but not least, in 13th came Bellshill, who hadn’t the pace to cope with Altior and co but proved his stamina and ability when landing the small matter of the Punchestown Gold Cup back in April.
Looking back, it really was a stunning line-up for the curtain raiser. Even those who have gone on to achieve less have proven more than effective. All of Mister Miyagi, William H Bonney, Holly Bush Henry, Penglai Pavillion and Silver Concorde have won at least one race since, all of which were of a decent standard.
The final comparison must be made with this year’s event. In producing a late burst to collar Kalashnikov, Summerville Boy earned an RPR (Racing Post Rating) of 156. In finishing third to stablemate Altior, Buveur D’Air achieved an RPR of 157, the winner reaching a supposed mark of 166, almost unheard of for a novice. All 14 who contested 2016’s running achieved a better rating than those who finished 10th or below this year (19 runners).
Between them, the Supreme class of 2016 have won a staggering 56 races since Altior first stormed up the Cheltenham hill. It’s a phenomenal record that looks set to grow and grow during this season and beyond.
If there’s been a race at Cheltenham that betters it in quality, I’d love to see it.