Matt Tombs / Saturday 23rd February 2013 / 11:35
1pt Defy Logic to win the Neptune @ 20/1 (NRNB)
The Neptune is normally one of my favourite ante-post betting races as it usually has a great betting shape. This season I’ve found it a really hard puzzle to solve as I’ve haven’t found anything I really fancy that’s a likely runner. Thankfully BetVictor and Bet365 are now non runner, no bet (NRNB) – and in that medium there’s a stand out horse.
In theory the Neptune (2m5f) and Albert Bartlett (3m) ought to be pretty similar races – so it’s no surprise many horses could run in either at this stage. However, in reality, the Neptune has more in common with the Supreme (2m). 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 by less talented, but speedier, types.
The shortest in the market of the staying types I generally oppose is Pont Alexandre (11/4) who looked a high glass galloper when winning a Grade 1 at Navan, (2m4f, heavy) and a Grade 2 at Leopardstown (2m4f, soft to heavy.) I had been confident that he’d go the Albert Bartlett route, but with Ballycasey the same connections number one for that, he runs here.
Given how good he’s looked and how strong the vibes are from the Mullins camp, you’ve got to respect his chance and if any of the staying types are going to win, it’s very likely to be him. The fact that horses as good as Un Atout and Champagne Fever look to be being diverted from this race is probably a tip in itself. I’ve no idea of the form of his win in France on good to soft, so a sound surface is an unknown and as he could switch to the Albert Bartlett if Ballycasey misses the race, I can’t suggest backing him now at 11/4.
Taquin Du Seuil (10/1) 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.) He’s another horse I really like, but on goodish ground I think he’ll get done for toe and would be better off in the Albert Bartlett, though the vibes are that he runs here.
The final member of my classy triumvirate who I think should be in the 3m race is Rule The World, (11/1). He was chinned by the smart Our Vinnie over 3m at Cork, (soft) and has since won twice over 2½m. The second was a Grade 2 at Naas but with Champagne Fever under the weather and going out like a light, he only had Minsk (looking exposed as just useful over hurdles) to beat. The vibes from Mouse Morris after the race weren’t that strong and I’d be surprised if he was quick enough.
Champagne Fever (12/1) has an obvious chance on his 2nd to Jezki in the Royal Bond, having proven his liking for the track when winning last year’s Bumper. He bounced back from a poor run behind Rule The World when benefiting from the run of the race to beat Bright New Dawn in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown, (2m2f, soft). He’s in the same ownership as Pont Alexandre and Ballycasey and is likely to run in the Supreme to keep them apart.
Un Atout (20/1) has won a bumper and 2 small hurdle races easily on testing ground, (twice at 2/7 and once at 1/2) and is firmly in the ‘could be anything’ category, (the vibes from the Mullins camp have always been very strong.) He was described as a stayer by Mullins but after his recent victory the trainer indicated he’d run in the Supreme. He’s worth considering at 20/1 NRNB in case the Mullins/Gigginstown pack gets shuffled a different way.
Melodic Rendezvous (16/1) had chased home Champagne Fever in the mud in the big bumper at the Punchestown Festival and was a good winner of the Tolworth, (2m, heavy). He ended the unbeaten record of Puffin Billy (16/1) at Exeter but Puffin Billy wasn’t sound so the form doesn’t mean much. I think he’d be better off in this than the Supreme, but Jeremy Scott is favouring the 2m race and given all his form is on testing ground (beaten by Mr Mole on his only hurdle race on a sound surface), he’s passed over. Puffin Billy needs to get over his minor foot ailment – I thought he might be the one I’d back for this but I don’t like backing horses after that sort of preparation.
Chatterbox (25/1) took the scalp of My Tent Or Yours (who gave 5lb) on desperate ground at Newbury, but the runner-up was given a very easy time. He’s since followed up at the same venue beating a potentially useful French recruit of Paul Nicholls. Nicky Henderson has said that he might bypass this year’s Festival due to immaturity so he can’t be backed now, (only 16/1 NRNB).
That doesn’t leave many to choose from and The New One (9/2) is the obvious one having hacked up in a Grade 2 at Warwick (2m5f, soft). He was then nabbed close home by stout stayer At Fisher’s Cross at Cheltenham, (extended 2m4f, heavy.) It might have been he didn’t get home but it may be that’s as good as he is. Another issue is his jumping - whilst it is improving, he’s not a natural and in a fast run Grade 1 in a big field I’m not sure he’ll get away with it. Like many Twiston-Davies horses, he has done a lot of his racing at Cheltenham but his best form has been elsewhere and it may be this track doesn’t suit ideally. All in all I think he’s a bit short.
I backed Bright New Dawn (33/1) in the Deloitte (2m2f, soft) and with a more positive ride, he might have caught Champagne Fever. His only other defeat over hurdles was when chasing too fast a pace behind Jezki and he looks to have the right blend of speed and stamina for this. He’s only run on testing ground so far but is a Presenting and there’s every reason to believe he’ll improve for a sound surface and a step up to 2½m. The vibes are that he won’t travel with a chasing career next season in mind and he’s only 20/1 NRNB.
Whispering Gallery (33/1) was group class on the flat 2 years ago and has bolted up in a couple of ordinary hurdles this year. He can’t be ruled out but there has to be a question mark over his jumping in a big field and he’s entered in everything so is one to look at closer to the time (only 20/1 NRNB.)
The right one to back at this stage is Defy Logic (25/1 ante-post, 20/1 NRNB) who has bolted up in eye-catching fashion on both starts this season, despite still looking a bit green. Last time he beat a solid yardstick (who was tired when unseating at the last) by a long way, giving 13lb, and that looks smart form. Although good ground is an unknown, his breeding suggests he may improve for a sound surface.
Whilst Defy Logic has been visually very impressive, the key reason for backing him is the availability of NRNB. He goes on trial this afternoon in a hot Grade 2 at Naas against Don Cossack, Moscow Mannon & Annie Power, (AP McCoy has given up his booked rides at Towcester to ride him). If he bolts up at Naas his price will tumble. If he isn’t up to the rise in class then he’s likely not to go to the Festival so we’ll get our money back and can look at the race afresh.
A riskier strategy would be to take the 25/1 ante-post, but even if he wins he might have too hard a race to go to Cheltenham in 17 days time or connections might decide to keep him at home anyway this spring with chasing next season in mind. Given the various scenarios where he might not run in the Neptune (his only Festival entry) I reckon he’s about 50:50 to go to Cheltenham so 20/1 NRNB is better value.
(One of his opponents today Moscow Mannon (33/1) is interesting having been 4th in the Bumper last season and beaten The Papparazi Kid cosily on his one hurdle run, but he’s had plenty of niggles during the season and is weak in the market for today’s race so might be more one for next season.)