The ‘Neptune’ has become a feeding ground for Cheltenham Festival stars over the years, and it’s not only the champions that go on to great things.
Hardy Eustace, The New One and Faugheen spring to mind as outstanding winners of the race, but the also-rans have gone on to win JLT’s, World Hurdles, Arkles, the Champion Chase, Champion Hurdles and even Gold Cups.
In 2004 Inglis Drever was a half-length runner-up in the race then known as the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle. That became the springboard for an incredible career that saw him take the World Hurdle three times, and become a Cheltenham hero for many adoring fans.
In 2006 one of the greatest chasers of the modern era was beaten into second by the Noel Meade trained Nicanor. The mighty Denman found his Irish opponent a little too speedy, but most onlookers had little doubt that ‘The Tank’ would go on to become a star of the sport. He stormed to victory in the RSA Chase the following March before lifting the Gold Cup a year later. Along with his stable companion Kauto Star, he set about dominating the staying chase division for almost half a decade.
Tidal Bay was another who tasted defeat in the ‘Neptune’. He returned in 2008 and ran away with the Arkle Chase. A career of mixed fortunes followed with many highs and a fair amount of disappointments. But few would argue that he became a ‘Cult Hero’ for a large number of Jump racing followers.
Benefficient and Taquin Du Seuil finished well down the field in their respective Neptune’s before returning 12 months later to win the JLT Novices’ Chase. Finians Rainbow and Forpadydeplasterer became terrific two mile chasers after launching their respective Festival careers in the race. The former trained by Nicky Henderson went on to finish second in the 2011 Arkle before beating Sizing Europe a year later to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase in a dramatic finish.
Forpadydeplasterer’s victory in the Arkle Chase of 2009 created some of the most memorable post-race scenes, when connections adorned in red and white celebrated wildly in the winner’s enclosure. Such sights live long in the memory, becoming part of a wonderful Festival folklore.
Cotswold trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies will be hoping his stable star The New One can become another Neptune graduate to take major honours next week in the Champion Hurdle. In 2007 he introduced the sport to one of his stable greats, when Imperial Commander finished a respectable seventh in his particular Neptune. A Ryanair Chase and Gold Cup victory followed for the powerful son of Flemensfirth.
Finally to a horse that may well add another glorious chapter to his illustrious Festival career in just over a week’s time. Rock On Ruby was pipped at the post by First Lieutenant in the Neptune of 2011. He returned in stunning fashion a year later when scorching to victory in the Champion Hurdle, defeating Hurricane Fly and Binocular in the process. Runner-up to ‘The Fly’ a year later he then had an unsuccessful period over the larger obstacles before returning to hurdles this winter. Connections will be hoping that he can emulate the feat of Inglis Drever, by winning a World Hurdle having earlier been a runner-up in the Neptune Novices’ hurdle.
The race that has launched so many incredible careers continues in its ‘leading role’ within the Cheltenham Festival journals. Rock On Ruby, Faugheen, The New One, Taquin Du Seuil or maybe Lieutenant Colonel or Cole Harden; both down the field in last year’s Neptune; may well score again at the Festival next week. But what of this year’s most influential novice hurdle?
The race certainly looks to have a line-up full of potential stars. The favourite Nichols Canyon is trained by Willie Mullins and owned by the Wylie’s. Already touted as the next Inglis Drever, he was very impressive at Leopardstown last time.
Outlander is owned by Gigginstown and could well be top-class. He is the latest from the wonderful Jumps sire Stowaway. Champagne Fever has waved the flag for this stallion in recent times. Can Outlander follow suit?
And what of the less fancied, who may find success in future years? Beast Of Burden is entered in next week’s Neptune. He is a huge son of Flemensfirth; as are Imperial Commander and Tidal Bay; and Rebecca Curtis’ gelding looks sure to become a terrific chaser in time.
Of all the Cheltenham Festival races, the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle in all its guises has produced such a rich and vibrant history. Year after year, future stars have revealed themselves to a euphoric Jump racing public. We look forward with immense anticipation to the next thrilling chapter.