2014 Neptune Novices Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips
The Neptune, a novice hurdle over two miles and five furlongs, may have a case for the most under-rated race at the Festival. Often considered a second string event to the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle, it actually has an excellent alumni that includes The New One, Simonsig and First Lieutenant in the past three years; and the likes of Barton, Monsignor and the mighty Istabraq going back to 1997.
It has been a decent race for punters, too, with six favourites obliging since Istabraq's Festival coronation. During that period, every winner bar 20/1 Massini's Maguire came from the top five in the betting.
2014 Neptune Novices Hurdle Trends
Aside from the strong market guidance, what other statistical pointers are there to aid us in trapping a Neptune-winning wager?
Age: All winners bar French Holly in the period under study were aged five or six. French Holly was seven. Four-year-olds are 0/13 and yet to record a placing better than fifth. Eight-year-olds-plus are 0/10, with a single placing in that group.
Days since a run: As with so many Festival non-handicap races, an absence of two weeks to two months seems optimal, with fifteen of the sixteen winners fitting that pattern. It does cover 76% of all runners, but accounts for 93.75% of the winners.
Last time out: Twelve of the last sixteen winners (75%) also won last time out, from 51.7% of the runners. Three of the other four winners were second (18.75%) from roughly the same proportion of runners (18.25%). Collectively, 93.75% of Neptune winners since 1997 finished first or second last time out, from 70% of the runners.
Class: All bar one of the last ten winners had finished at least second in a Grade 2 event. The exception, Fiveforthree, was fifth in the previous Champion Bumper.
2014 Neptune Novices Hurdle Preview
We're looking for a classy animal here, with proven stamina, and a reasonable rest period coming into the race. He will most likely be five or six years old.
Faugheen is favoured and, should he take up this engagement, he looks to have a big chance. No horse has yet got closer to him than four and a quarter lengths, though it should be said that he's not raced above Grade 3 level to date, and has been off since late December (74 days). Those knocks don't mean he can't win, but they might imply he's poor value at 3/1 against some smart sorts.
And a further niggle with Faugheen is that his preparation was interrupted when the horse was "a little disappointing", according to his trainer, Willie Mullins, at the turn of the year.
Red Sherlock has a similar unbeaten profile - his extending to six runs - and won the course, and distance (but not course and distance), Grade 2 in January which has been a springboard for both Massini's Maguire and The New One to win the Neptune.
Indeed, five of the eight horses placed in that race came on to place in this one. Red Sherlock led home Rathvinden (subject of strong support recently) with Aubusson a long way back in third. There were just a couple of lengths between the pair that day, and Rathvinden gave the impression he might have had a bit more to work on, despite being slightly favoured in the betting on that occasion.
Both come to the Neptune with strong chances, and at 5/1 and 8/1 respectively, they both look solid each way options.
Splitting the pair in the betting is the seven-year-old Royal Boy, vanquisher of Josses Hill last time out. If the last named runs a big race in the Supreme, that would clearly advertise the claims of Royal Boy. But there are two striking concerns for me with this fellow. Firstly, he's older than all bar two of all Neptune winners going back to its inception in 1971.
And secondly, his best form looks to be on a squishy surface. Indeed, his sole encounter with good ground under rules was a whacking defeat and by far his lowest performance 'figures'. He did win a point-to-point on advertised good ground, but it's very hard to know what that means in the context of a race like this. Certainly, it would have to be a question mark at least against Royal Boy's name.
This is one of those races where a fair few fancied horses have multiple engagements, occasionally coupled with the Supreme but more often with the longer Albert Bartlett, run over three miles. Briar Hill is a key example this term, and he probably has a more obvious chance in the longer race. That said, he'd certainly have a strong chance here too, as he showed the track holds no fears when cantering past Regal Encore to win the Champion Bumper last year. His trainer has implied they're leaning towards the potato race.
Captain Cutter, a stable companion to Royal Boy, has been nicely progressive this season, and won a Grade 1 over this trip at Newbury last time, in comfortable manner. He is another that may go long and to the Bertie Bartlett, but I can recommend him in this with the non-runner no bet concession. It's a bet to nothing and, on the evidence of that last effort, and the likelihood that McCoy will ride if Captain Cutter shows up here, 14/1 with Ladbrokes has tempted me.
Another likable sort with multiple entries is Deputy Dan. He won the same Warwick Grade 2 in which The New One scored last year before taking Neptune honours, and No Refuge also doubled up in 2005. Deputy Dan was perhaps a default winner there, as favourite Rathvinden fell when looking a threat. That said, it was Rathvinden's third error in succession and, though he was much better in defeat to Red Sherlock a fortnight later, the worry would be how he'd jump in a bigger, classier field (did outclass a large field of maiden hurdlers on soft ground).
Deputy Dan will take in this race if the ground is testing but if, as seems more likely, the course dries out, he'll go to the Albert Bartlett. Still, it's non runner no bet and he's another tempter at 16's with BetVictor.
The rest ought not to be good enough in a race typically won by a horse close to the head of considerations.
2014 Neptune Novices Hurdle Tips
With if's and but's about the participation of a number of Neptune Novices' entries, and a reservation or two about the favourite, Faugheen, it's worth taking a win bet and two each way shouts, all on the non-runner no bet premise.
To my eye, the likeliest winner is Red Sherlock. Although a touch quirky - he has a pronounced tail swishing kink - he jumps very well and is unbeaten in six, including twice here at Cheltenham. He looks as though he'll go on any ground, though a bit of juice would be ideal, and he's a solid bet at 5/1 with Paddy Power.
I'll add ballast to my book for the race with two each way shouts, neither of which may turn up. We'll get our cash back if they don't so no harm done in backing Captain Cutter and Deputy Dan, a pair of sons of the stallion Westerner, at 14/1 (Ladbrokes) and 16/1 (BetVictor) respectively.
Neptune Novices Hurdle Selection:
Red Sherlock 5/1 Paddy Power (Non-runner money back)
Neptune Each Way Alternatives:
Captain Cutter e/w 14/1 Ladbrokes (Non-runner money back)
Deputy Dan e/w 16/1 BetVictor (Non-runner money back)