Ashforth’s Angles: Melon one to take on in opener

Melon: concerns mean Supreme Novices' favourite is one to take on

PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos) Melon can get festival layers off to fruitful start
By David Ashforth 6:00PM 7 MAR 2017

IT would be untrue to say that there has been a clamour for my thoughts on the Cheltenham Festival but it's not my fault if people don't know what's good for them. All I can do is offer advice and be prepared for readers to be ungrateful.

At about 1.30pm next Tuesday the starter's flag will fall, the Cheltenham crowd will roar and the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle will get the whole crazy ball rolling. The opening skirmish is important. It sets the tone for the battles ahead and if you're already feeling depressed by the time the Arkle Chase arrives it's going to be a long week and perhaps a short life. Luckily for you, I've got some jolly good advice, particularly on the fruit front.

Which two fruits are anagrams of each other? The answer is lemon and melon but as Lemon isn't running in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle while Melon is, we'll concentrate on that.

Melon, currently favourite, will carry the hopes of countless punters and the fears of many bookmakers. There are strong positives and strong negatives regarding Melon's chance and as you are probably too idle to work them out for yourself, I'll do it for you.

An attractively bred €100,000 yearling, as a three-year-old Melon ran four times on the Flat in France. On his second outing he finished second to Launched, who later won two listed races, then Melon won a small race at Moulins. His form was encouraging but not, as Lord Peter Wimsey would have said, "Top Hole."

Melon didn't race as a four-year-old but when, at the end of January, he finally appeared in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown he started at 9-4 on and won impressively by ten lengths.

Whatever the opposite of a mug is, that is what trainer Willie Mullins is. As Mullins clearly thinks highly of Melon it's safe to assume that Melon deserves to be thought highly of. The manner of his success is another positive. Melon moved nicely and for a debutant his jumping was notably confident and slick. The small mistakes he made at the fourth hurdle and at the last can be forgiven.

Yet there are also negatives. Most of the 13 runners at Leopardstown were also rans before they started. Broken Soul, the runner-up and second favourite, went on to be comfortably beaten when odds-on at Navan. The six-year-old has one bumper win to show from 10 tries.

Then there is the going. Melon moved smoothly on ground that was officially good at Leopardstown and in France didn't race on going worse than good to soft. Soft ground, which is still a possibility, is unlikely to suit him.

The race will be a more intense, competitive, hectic contest than Melon has experienced before. Lack of experience is another negative. The last eight winners of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle had all run either four or five times over hurdles and in stronger races.

At Melon's current odds of 4-1, he is a horse to lay.

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