Matt Tombs / Tuesday 17th February 2015 / 14:46
When looking at the Neptune, I always remind myself that I need a really fast horse at the trip. Istabraq and Hardy Eustace followed up in the Champion Hurdle. The last two Neptune winners, Faugheen and The New One are the front two in this year’s Champion market. By contrast, all-time great stayers like Denman and Inglis Drever got done for toe in this.
For the last couple of years there have been sectional timings at the Festival. The Neptune and Coral Cup are run over the same course and distance on the same day. Last year the leader in the Neptune reached the first split in 27.15 seconds, which was a huge 2.53 seconds slower than the leader in the Coral Cup. By the line the Neptune winner was 1.2 seconds quicker than the Coral Cup winner, (per Turftrax times rather than official times.)
I’m not sure how much emphasis I’d place on these splits – you’d expect a big field handicap to go quickly early on. However, it might be that starting in the middle of the course, with a big sweeping bend to get onto the main track, they don’t go too quickly early on in the Neptune, causing it to become a speed test.
The race has been much more predictable than the Supreme – the more steady early gallop perhaps being one reason. Since 1990, 20 of the 24 Neptune winners have started single figure prices and 10 favourites have won. In the Supreme I liked Willie Mullins’ short priced favourite, but reasoned he’d be a bigger price on the day, so it made sense to seek some each-way value in an unpredictable race. I think Mullins is odds-on to win the Neptune and its 7/1 the field, which suggests there ought to be some value about his runners. Every time I try and work out which Mullins novice hurdlers will contest which race, I come up with a different conclusion, so Boylesports NRNB is crucial.
With so many contenders, (14 at 25/1 or shorter and another 12 at 33/1,) the starting point is filtering out unlikely runners. Douvan (20/1), L’Ami Serge (25/1), Jollyallan (25/1) and Seedling (33/1) are heading for the Supreme and Black Hercules (25/1), Vyta Du Roc (33/1), No More Heroes (33/1). Caracci Apache (33/1) and Thomas Brown (33/1) the Albert Bartlett. Morning Run (25/1), Tea For Two (33/1), Vago Collonges (33/1), Jollys Cracked It (33/1) and Tara Point (33/1) are unlikely to run in any of the Grade 1s.
That only leaves 4 horses not trained by Willie Mullins at shorter than 40/1. Windsor Park (12/1) was a solid 4¾l 4th to Outlander in a Grade 2 over 2m4f and 3½l 2nd to Nichols Canyon in the Grade 1 Deloitte over 2m2f, both at Leopardstown. In the latter he jumped indifferently early on and stayed on all too late. He looks to be going the right way but he’s short for a horse that’s been well beaten in the only 2 good races he’s run in over hurdles. Its hard to tell at this stage, but I’d be tempted to run him in the Albert Bartlett as he looks to stay well, (won both his flats starts, each over 1m6f,) and that might give him time to get his jumping together.
Parlour Games (8/1) was a decent flat horse (rated 91,) and was campaigned throughout the summer, (16th in the Galway Hurdle off 141.) He then won a slowly run Grade 2 at Cheltenham over 2m5f, and the Grade 1 Challow, (also 2m5f,) at Newbury. At Cheltenham he beat Blaklion, who looks a 3 miler, by 4½l, when receiving 3lb. Blaklion was 3rd in the Challow, where Parlour Games edged out Vyta Du Roc by a neck. Vyta Du Roc is an unfancied 33/1 chance, (probably goes for the Albert Bartlett), yet Parlour Games is 8/1 despite them looking to have similar chances. He’s a 7 year old, (French Holly in 1998 is the only horse that old to have won that I can remember - generally a younger horse improves past them at this stage,) and Challow winners have a dire record. He looks opposable.
Nicky Henderson’s Kilcrea Vale (14/1) stayed on strongly to win a 3m point in Ireland in May and, on his only run since, he bolted up by 26l at Market Rasen. Visually he was impressive, jumping and travelling like a good horse. Barry Geraghty chose to go to Thurles instead, (for 2 mounts without obvious chances who were both well beaten,) leaving a 3lb claimer to take the ride. Nicky Henderson doesn’t tend to hard train his potential chasers in their novice hurdle season – only the brilliant Simonsig has won either the Supreme or Neptune for him in the last 2 decades, and he’s run stacks of horses that have turned out to be top class in those races. He might be more one for next season.
Ordo Ab Chao (20/1) is highly rated by Alan King. He was a close 4th in the Grade 2 bumper at Aintree in the spring and is 3/4 over hurdles. He won two small events at long odds-on before bombing in a Grade 2 at Sandown won by Vyta Du Roc. He showed that was all wrong by winning a strong looking Grade 2 at Cheltenham, beating the hyped Value At Risk by ¾l. He did look to be beating stayers there and I’m not convinced he’ll be quite quick enough, but 20/1 is fair value.
That leaves the Mullins battalions to sort through. Whilst NRNB offers protection, I don’t want to be backing a horse that I think won’t run. I’m guessing that Shaneshill (12/1) and Tell Us More (14/1) are more likely to go for the Supreme if they run at the Festival. Willie suggested recently Tell Us More might go for this but the once strong vibes are cooling and he’s more the type I’d want to reassess nearer the time.
Alvisio Ville (20/1) is a huge shell of a horse and, having not looked streetwise when beaten in the Deloitte, I’d be tempted to bypass the Festival this season with chasing in mind. He’s 16/1 NRNB and, given his reputation, he’s bound to be much shorter if lining up, so you could back him and lay it off if he runs.
McKinley (33/1) has been on the go since May, (9 runs) and ran as if he needed a break in the Deloitte. The vibes are he’s more likely to contest the Supreme if he travels. Milsean (33/1) is an unlikely traveler and looks more of a stayer, which leaves 3 Closutton inmates to focus on.
Outlander (9/1) is another 7 year old, and whilst literal lines of form with Windsor Park give him the beating of Nichols Canyon, I think Windsor Park improved a lot between those races, (had only won a maiden before taking on Outlander.) Outlander was beating 3 milers in Martello Tower and Killultagh Vic at Leopardstown and I’m not sure he’ll have the tactical speed for this.
Nichols Canyon (7/1) was a stayer on the flat, winning a listed event over an extended 1m7f on heavy ground in France 15 months ago. Few horses rated 111 on the level go jumping and his mixture of pace and proven stamina looks a potent weapon in this. He’s a fast and low jumper and that might easily win him the race, (though he’s tipped up once already and there’s always the risk that could happen again.) It was probably a weak Royal Bond that he won, but it looked a strong Deloitte over 2m2f and he took the field apart. He looked to land a bit awkwardly over the last, which might be why he didn’t go away again on the run in. He’s a worthy market leader, though Paddy Power, who have a habit of being correct about which Mullins horse goes where, went top price last week, which suggests the Supreme might be under consideration.
At a bigger price I’m also tempted by Arbre De Vie (25/1) who has gone under the radar given Mullins’ stellar crop of novices. He’s 2/2 since joining Willie, winning a maiden easily at Fairyhouse (2m4f) and then bolting up at Warwick (2m5f) in what was a fair race. He stays well and how much toe he possesses hasn’t yet been tested. He’s only run on soft ground so far, and his breeding suggests he might need it, but that’s far from certain. He looks to have lots of ability and is an unknown quantity.
I don’t fancy the leading opposition to the Mullins’ horses and I’m struggling to work out what he’ll run where. That must mean taking a slightly smaller price NRNB is the right strategy. Nichols Canyon (6/1 NRNB) is a proven Grade 1 novice, who beat a good field last time. He has flat speed, looks to stay well and I can see him going off half his current price. Arbre De Vie (20/1 NRNB) looks an interesting outsider. Whether he’s ready for this yet isn’t clear but we can rely on Willie Mullins to only run him if he is - he’s no 20/1 shot in that scenario.
1pt Nichols Canyon to win the Neptune Novices' Hurdle @ 6/1 NRNB
1pt Arbre De Vie to win the Neptune Novices' Hurdle @ 20/1 NRNB