The Neptune Novices’ Hurdle is the second race on day two of the Festival. The role of honour has included a host of bright young stars, including triple Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq, Champion Hurdle third French Holly, the awesome Monsignor, and more recently the highly regarded Fiveforthree. Open to novices 4yo and upwards, run over two miles and five furlongs and worth £100,000, let’s take a look through the main contenders of this years field.
Firstly, I am not a person who takes much interest in trends but even the most naïve of gamblers must know you can’t preview the Cheltenham Festival without outlining the key trends associated with each race. With that in mind:
22 of the last 24 winners started in the top 6 of the betting.
6yo’s have won 7 out of the last 10 renewals.
French Holly, winner in 1998 aged 7, is the only horse older than 6 to have won the race since 1974 and Brown Lad, winner in ‘74 aged 8, the only other horse to do so.
25 of the last 26 winners had won or finished second on their previous start.
This looks set to be an interesting renewal with a cast of talented novices’ and a sprinkling of potential future Gold Cup winners in the making. However, with a number of the field holding dual entries, the line up is far from set.
Rite Of Passage
Giant’s Causeway (USA) – Dahlia’s Krissy (USA) (Kris S (USA)
Notes: Started life in bumpers and was sent of a confident favourite for the Champion Bumper at last years Festival when finishing third to Dunguib. Hadn’t recovered from the exertions of that, when fourth a month later at the Curragh, but duly dispatched a maiden field later in the year. Sent off a surprising 7/1 in the Leopardstown November Handicap and made those odds look silly when bolting in, by eight lengths, eased down. His long anticipated debut over hurdles came early this year, where at long odds on, he readily won from Grey Soldier, a comfortable winner since. A fluent jumper on that occasion, he is regarded highly by connections but inexperience a possible Achilles’ heel. Holds entries to both here and the Supreme, but with stamina unlikely to be an issue, both the betting and the likelihood of facing Dunguib again suggest this as his likely destination. Due to run two and half miles on Feb 17th at Punchestown, Weld has mentioned the possibility of skipping Cheltenham for a flat campaign, but I’d be surprised if he did!
Saint Des Saints (FR) – Jeune D’esprit (FR) (Royal Charter (FR)
Notes: Nothing more than a work out when dotting up in a NHF race on debut at Leopardstown. Then finished fourth in the Champion Bumper at last years Festival, where just behind Rite Of Passage. Back to winning ways at Punchestown the following month, then returned in November to make a winning start over hurdles. The next three home have all won since, and he went on to follow up when barely breaking sweat to land a Grade 3 at Cork. However, he suffered a shock defeat a fortnight ago when beaten at odds on by Coole River in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown and seemingly had no excuses for his half length defeat. Although clearly useful, others are preferred and his more likely destination could be the Albert Bartlett.
Oscar (IRE) – Patscilla (UK) (Squill (USA)
Donald McCain Jr
Notes: Having opened his account in a NHF race at Haydock back in November, he remains undefeated two starts later. (Four from four if you include his point to point success) After a demolition job at Bangor, he returned to Haydock to land a Grade 2, trouncing his three opponents in the process. He looked top notch in doing so, but his races to date have been over extended two mile trips and although stamina not a concern, he does hold an entry to the Supreme. Currently trading at 14/1, you can’t help but feel if he was trained by a Nicholls or a Mullins he would be a lot shorter.
Tiraaz (USA) – Trinity Gale (IRE) (Strong Gale (UK)
Notes: Would be an injustice to consider this horse the Henderson second string but in reality he more than likely is. Facile winner of a NHF race at Kempton, he duly bolted up in a Newbury novices’ hurdle. The second has disappointed since, and to some degree, as has he. Sent off favourite in the Challow Hurdle, he led at the last, and although he could have jumped it better, he was simply out-battled close home, beaten by Reve De Sivola and Restless Harry. Although the margin was narrow and he was inexperienced compared to those two, the proximity of the fourth horse suggests place claims at best.
Anshan (UK) – Mazuma (IRE) (Mazaad (IRE)
Notes: Undefeated in first three starts, he is probably the classiest horse in the line up. Having dispatched a decent bumper field at Punchestown with absolute ease, he made his much-anticipated debut over hurdles in November. Sent off an odds on favourite, he cruised through the race before effortlessly drawing away to score with ease. He then followed up a month later in similar fashion at Newbury, jumping and traveling supremely well. Having raced over two miles give or take, he was stepped up in trip at Kempton earlier today, but suffered a surprise defeat, as odds on favourite, to the unexposed Phidipiddes, sending his Antepost odds sky high.
Reve De Sivola
Assessor (IRE) – Eva De Chalamont (FR) (Iron Duke (FR)
Notes: Far more experienced than most here, with eight runs over hurdles, but only two have yielded wins. Although a never dangerous sixth on debut, he was highly tried in a Grade 2 around Cheltenham next, and although well beaten, he was a promising third at big odds. Beaten by Walkon the next twice, he ran well in defeat and always looked as if in need of further; never more so than when sixth to Zaynar in the Triumph, despite a stumble on the bend. Stepped up in trip this season, he was an easy winner of a Grade 2 before finishing second to Tell Massini at the same level. Got up close home to beat Restless Harry and Finians Rainbow in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle, but will need more to win this. Zero from four at Cheltenham but has run creditably on each occasion, however, still gives impression a further step up in trip would be appreciated.
Restless Harry continued on from his second place in the Challow with a Grade 2 win at Cheltenham but will need more to feature here.
Morning Supreme was fifth in the Champion Bumper, two for two since hurdling and looks smart but place claims at best and may possibly re-oppose Dunguib in the Supreme instead.
Fionnegas chased home Dunguib last time but has a few issues, notably jumping, that suggest he will do well to get involved while Tell Massini must surely be Albert Bartlett bound.
Loosen My Load has done nothing wrong, but on a line through Some Present has a similar chance to Fionnegas.
Although impressed with Quantitativeeasing, his defeat today over this distance seriously dented his chances. I have been a follower of RITE OF PASSAGE from day one and I have no intention of changing. No matter the task, Dermot Weld has always held this horse in the highest regard and I believe his views will be justified with a Festival win. However, in backing this horse you have to take a lot on faith and at odds of 9/2 against the potential opposition, my preferred recommendation will have to be Peddlers Cross each way. Odds of 14/1 must surely indicate value but are not as insulting as the 25/1 available for the Supreme. However, without a guaranteed destination at the time of writing, the sensible play must be to back in both markets.