Matt Tombs / Saturday 2nd March 2013 / 20:00
1pt Whispering Gallery to win the Neptune @ 33/1 NRNB
As I mentioned when taking a look at this race the other day, I’ve found the Neptune a hard puzzle to solve this season and so once non runner, no bet (NRNB) arrived it made sense to back Defy Logic before his run at Naas. He ran a good race to be 2nd to the exciting Annie Power and whilst I don’t place too much store with collateral lines of form, on running against Don Cossack, Defy Logic would have a similar chance as favoruite Pont Alexandre.
I’m not sure Defy Logic is mature enough for Cheltenham this time round and connections are likely to keep him at home with a chasing career in mind, (AP McCoy has been booked to ride Taquin Du Seuil.) He’d have an each way chance if he did turn up, but that’s unlikely and having lost nothing, its time to take another look at the race.
It’s worth repeating that on the prevailing good ground, you need a really fast horse for the Neptune - Istabraq and Hardy Eustace won and Rock on Ruby was 2nd the year before winning the Champion Hurdle, and Peddlers Cross was 2nd in the Champion a year after winning it. By contrast, top class stayers Denman and Inglis Drever were beaten.
Pont Alexandre is the key horse in this race, (5/2). He has a huge reputation in the Mullins camp and potentially top class novices like Un Atout and Champagne Fever look as if they’ve been moved to other races because he runs here. You have to respect those vibes from such shrewd connections but the more I look at his form, the less well it stacks up.
The horses he’s beaten on his 2 runs in Ireland are 0/7 since and plenty of them have been disappointing, especially Don Cossack. He’s made all over this trip in bad ground and hasn’t shown a turn of foot yet, (hasn’t needed to). It’s hard to make all at the Festival and on good ground I can see him setting this up for something with more toe. They’re talking about him as the next Denman, but he was beaten at 11/10 in this – it’s not about which horse is the most likely Gold Cup winner in a couple of years, it’s about what’ll win the Neptune. At the end of the day you have to trust your own judgment not connections, and cracking prospect though he is, I want to take him on.
The New One (4/1) is a horse I think is getting overhyped, (Nigel Twiston-Davies is always very bullish about his horses, so his enthusiasm isn’t a guide.) His form with Village Vic over course and distance in November (good to soft) looks ordinary as the runner-up has been disappointing since. The New One was then beaten by At Fisher’s Cross here on heavy ground here and it may be the track doesn’t suit. His best performance was at Warwick where he blew away a reasonable field, (2m5f, soft) and he’d have every chance on that but on the balance of his form he looks a bit short.
Taquin Du Seuil was a rare 2pt bet for Pricewise at 8/1, so it’s a surprise he’s still available at 7/1. He was a good winner of the only Grade 1 at the trip in Britain before the Festival, the Challow at Newbury, (2m5f, heavy.) That tends to be a real test of stamina and a dozen winners have tried to follow up in the Neptune, all of which have been beaten, (including Denman.)
The theory is that his 1¾l 2nd to My Tent Or Yours at Ascot, (2m, good to soft) where he comes out the best horse at the weights giving 5lb, means he has loads of toe. I don’t buy that – My Tent Or Yours was very keen that day and has improved out of all recognition since then, (beaten in his following race). Taquin Du Seuil is better judged as having (ignoring claims) beaten the 123 rated third home Ubak 8l, giving him 5lb. I think he’s an embryonic 3 miler and on good ground reckon he’ll get done for toe.
Rule The World, (10/1) was narrowly beaten over 3m at Cork, (soft) by Our Vinnie and then won a weak race at Navan. His chance really depends on how you view his Grade 2 win at Naas. Champagne Fever (sent off 1/4) was under the weather and Minsk arguably went too quickly and didn’t get home. That looked to leave Rule The World an open goal and Mouse Morris described him as ‘a big, raw bugger’ and didn’t seem to think he was a Festival novice hurdle horse. I’m taking a negative view of the form and think he’s more one for next season.
If I was convinced Puffin Billy (14/1) was going to Cheltenham in top form he’d be the selection. He’s looked a really good horse when doing demolition jobs in each of his first 4 races (2 bumpers and 2 hurdles). The Grade 2 novice hurdle he won at Ascot (2m, heavy) was a reasonable race and he won with the proverbial ton in hand. He was found to have a badly infected foot when flopping behind Melodic Rendezvous at Exeter and that run is probably best ignored. He’s the classic sort I’ll kick myself for not backing if he wins, but horses that flopped in their preps rarely win Grade 1s at the Festival.
After the front 5 in the market, there look to be a lot of non-runners. Champagne Fever (16/1), UnAtout (20/1) & Melodic Rendezvous (25/1) are due to run in the Supreme, (though Champagne Fever has been backed for the Albert Bartlett.) At Fisher’s Cross (16/1) and Ballycasey (25/1) run in the Albert Bartlett and Chatterbox (25/1) and Annie Power (25/1) are likely to miss Cheltenham altogether.
That basically takes everything out at 25/1 or shorter so the race could be primed for an upset. At the very least there ought to be some horses that can be backed NRNB at big prices now that will shorten dramatically if lining up. It’s hard to find any of the outsiders I can give any reasonable chance to. Two Rockers (28/1) is unbeaten and was good last time at Haydock but that was 3m in heavy ground and he oddly was entered for this but not the Albert Bartlett. He might run if there’s plenty of give in the ground so is one to look at on the day.
The only one of the outsiders I like at this stage is Whispering Gallery (33/1) who was a Group 3 winner for Godolphin on the flat 2 years ago and has bolted up in a couple of ordinary hurdles this year. In the second of them, he beat the useful Bobowen (rated 125 over hurdles, 135 over fences,) on the bridle.
He’s an unknown quantity over hurdles but it’s easy to see him having too much speed for the embryonic 3 milers at the front of the market. The concern is whether he’ll jump well enough – he’s still a bit novicey and was wandering around in the home straight at Wetherby, probably because he wasn’t going fast enough. The hope is that he’s the sort of horse that jumps better when going the sort of quicker gallop he’s more used to. He’s by Daylami who’s mainly produced jumpers and he’ll have a top jockey in Denis O’Regan to help get him into a rhythm.
It’s rare for a Godolphin group race winner to run at the Festival, but it may be a sign of things to come given the firepower John Ferguson is being supplied with. A decade ago Howard Johnson started getting really good horses for the Wylies off the flat. Arcalis was a 95 rated flat horse who won the Supreme at 20/1 in 2004 and No Refuge was a listed race winner on the flat before taking this the following year. Initially the market seriously underestimated those ex-flat horses for a then unfashionable trainer. It may be that the same thing is happening here, despite Cotton Mill looking likely to give Simonsig a fright in this last year when running out.
Whispering Gallery is also entered in the Supreme, Albert Bartlett and World Hurdles but this looks the right target and as NRNB is available, it doesn’t matter too much. If he lines up on decent ground I can’t see him being more than half his current odds. He’s very much a win not an each way proposition as he could bolt up or just not be able to jump at Neptune speed and be tailed off. In a field full of horses that look more like quality stayers than Neptune horses, I’m prepared to chance him at 33/1.