The Neptune Novices Hurdle 2017 is shaping up to be an enthralling clash between the two hype horses Finian’s Oscar and Neon Wolf, and that is before you throw in any number of the rivals they are booked to face.
The Neptune has proven a rich source of future Champion Hurdle winners at the Cheltenham Festival, more so than the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle run over the same distance as the Champion Hurdle.
Horses such as Faugheen, Hardy Eustace and Istabraq have taken the Neptune prior to winning the Champion Hurdle the following season, and Rock On Ruby finished a narrowly beaten second to Bobs Worth (future Gold Cup winner) before dropping back in distance and winning a Champion Hurdle.
Neptune Novices Hurdle 2017
Oscar x Trinity Alley (Taipan)
Notes: Unbeaten so far in his career but there has been questions over what exactly has he beaten. Was allowed to go off 11/4 for a Hereford novice hurdle back in December, and won one of the worst renewals of the Tolworth (Grade 1) I can remember, and the form of that has fallen apart. He didn’t need to be at his best at Exeter to see off Taws but did the job in decent enough style but seemed to lack the sparkle he’d previously shown. Is clearly held in the highest regard at the Colin Tizzard yard and will no doubt prove my doubts above wrong in time, but he is beginning to take a slight walk in the Betfair market and there are a couple of stronger opponents who hold more value for me.
Vinnie Roe x Missy O’Brien (Supreme Leader)
Notes: On all known form the one they all have to beat, the manner in which he disposed of his rivals at Haydock in January was devastating. He was a little sketchy in the early stages with his jumping, but as the pace quickening his hurdling became electric in the latter third of the race. He hit the line running and the step up to this distance will pose no problems to him – there were some rumours he could go down the Supreme Novices’ route with him but he’s very much the one to beat here.
Coastal Path x Oasice (Robin Des Champs)
Notes: I really have a lot of time for this horse having bet him in the Champion Bumper last year, and after an initial spill on his hurdling debut has put together a brace of victories, most recently when winning the Grade 1 Deloitte Novices’ Hurdle. Is bred to appreciate the step-up in trip to this distance and I can’t find any holes in his game. I think he is absolutely rock solid, for a yard who know how to produce horses to peak at this meeting and is one I’m quite excited about seeing next week.
Court Cave x Willoughby Sue (Dabali)
Notes: An above-average sort in the bumper sphere last season, he is very much a chaser in the making but has shown enough ability over hurdles to suggest he is more than capable of eating at this table. A slow-learner over timber he made the step-forward when winning the Leamington Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) at Warwick in January, giving 4lb and an 8-length beating to Gayebury, who since won a Class 2 handicap hurdle off 132 by 13 lengths. He will need to improve again but his overall profile is one I like and must enter calculations here.
Messire Des Obeaux
Saddler Maker x Madame Lys (Sheyrann)
Notes: Has been running to a consistent level over hurdles this season, winning three of his last four starts. He holds a victory over Ballyandy who if he runs well in the Supreme Novices would bode well for the Alan King runner. Based on what I’ve seen though he just comes up short, lacking that bit of class needed to win this race but is one who will run his heart out in defeat.
Beyond Conceit has won two from two over hurdles this season for Nicky Henderson and was once a high-class handicapper on the flat in his earlier days. His form we’ve seen so far is around a stone below what is required to win this race and I’d imagine he’ll come up short.
Burbank looks like being another runner for Nicky Henderson and will need to improve absolutely loads to get competitive here. His three runs over hurdles to date leave him some way below what is required.
Invitation Only was the early favourite for this race after an impressive bumper campaign. He opened his account over hurdles at Gowran before looking most discouraging at Navan when last seen in December. He had his head in the clouds and although he clearly does have ability his fortitude in a battle is of concern.
Shattered Love is a Gordon Elliott trained mare who has really improved rapidly through the backend of this season and arrives at Cheltenham with an outside chance of spoiling the party. Very convincing when beating Forge Meadow by 13 lengths at the start of February and be interesting to see how she goes up in trip.
Lets Dance probably won’t run here but running plans still very much up in the air after Willie Mullins in his infinite wisdom decided she wouldn’t be going for the Mares Novices Hurdle, despite being backed into favouritism. She has improved heaps since her Triumph Hurdle fourth last year and would be dangerous if she took this engagement.
Kemboy is very much an unknown still at this stage off the back of just two runs, the same of which can be said for Bon Papa from the same stable. Both need to improve but are lightly raced enough to do so and are worth a check in the market.
William Henry has returned as good as ever from an injury enforced break, and his most recent piece of form when second to Wholestone at the track reads well. He will need to improve again, and quite considerably to press the principles in this but a strong-run race will suit him, and he could snatch a place under the wily Davy Russell.
As already touched upon above some big names have won this race in the past before going on to better things, and Neon Wolf is very much the one you’d expect to roll off the tongue when thinking of the future.
He has a very high cruising speed, plenty of class and just a beautiful way of doings things, and is quite rightly the antepost favourite for this race.
Finian’s Oscar is another who cost plenty of money when acquired by Ann & Alan Potts, and holds a lofty reputation but has yet to really show us that on the track. Yes, granted there is an element of you can only beat what is presented in front of you, and he has certainly done that but before backing him at the current prices I’d have wanted to see an element of more solidity to his form.
Willoughby Court is a horse I like but feel he would have been much better suited to the test presented by the Albert Bartlett, but again thoroughly expect him to outrun his price for trainer Ben Pauling, and he is very much one to the forefront of my mind.
I am going to take a chance and go against the seemingly solid Neon Wolf, and chance my arm that we’ve yet to see the best from BACARDYS who is bred to thrive going up in trip, finished so strongly in the Champion Bumper last year and travelled sweetly through the race. He has been crying out for this extra yardage with both his hurdles starts to date over shorter, and the fact he managed to win the Deloitte over 2 miles 2 furlongs at Leopardstown last time up, says more about his ability than anything else, and I feel he is somewhat underestimated.