Although run over a longer distance of two mile and five furlongs the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle is seen by many trainers as the perfect trial for the following season’s two-mile Champion Hurdle.
It is thought that the slower run Neptune is the biggest test of a horse’s ability to travel through a race at decent speed then quicken up the gruelling Cheltenham hill. If they can cope with the demands of that then they are likely to be able to handle a quicker run Champion Hurdle, where although run over five furlongs less, still requires an abundance of stamina.
Many people forget that three-time Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq won the Neptune the year before his Champion exploits and another legend of the hurdling game Hardy Eustace also won both races.
Despite the race being seen by many of the leading stables as the top novice hurdle of the entire Festival, no specific trainer has racked up more than two wins in the race. Seven trainers have won it twice but have found it hard to notch the record winning third, although Willie Mullins and Nigel Twiston Davies will give that a go again this season.
This is a race where the Irish come alive, they have registered 16 wins all-together in the race, including six on the bounce between 1973 and 1978.
Ireland got one over on their British counterparts last year when First Lieutenant won a thriller of a race to nail long-time leader Rock On Ruby on the line under a stellar Davy Russell ride. This continued a rather fruitful trend that 23 of the last 25 winners started in the first six in the betting.
Neptune Novices Hurdle Tips
Boston Bob looks to have the edge over Fingal Bay at this year’s Neptune Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham but Simonsig should go close
The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle is a race which is held in the highest regard by many of the big national hunt stables.
The fact that the race attracted 118 entries at the one-month declaration stage speaks volumes. Trainers see this as the top novice hurdle race and know a good performance in this can open up a wide range of future options whether it would be dropping back in trip for the Champion Hurdle or stepping up the distance for a career over fences.
The entries, and ante-post betting markets, are headed by Phillip Hobbs’ strapping six-year-old Fingal Bay, who is seen by many as a potential Gold Cup winner. But Hobbs’ is understandably taken it slow with his top-class chaser in the making and despite not having the greatest speed for hurdles still goes into this race unbeaten after five starts. His most recent success came in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury – a race won by Hennessy winners Denman and Diamond Harry in their novice hurdle days – where he wasn’t overly impressive but still showed great heart in a finish to keep up his unbeaten run. He has got chaser written all over him but that hasn’t stopped horses of his types being successful over hurdles before and you would imagine he’s likely to go very close at Cheltenham.
Willie Mullins has won this top novice hurdle event twice in the last four years and his best chance this season looks to be Grade One Navan Hurdle winner Boston Bob. There was nothing too special about that performance but he then improved again it seemed to land a Grade Two at Leopardstown whilst conceding weight all round to a high-class field.
Another horse set for big things in the future looks to be Nicky Henderson’s French recruit Captain Conan, who looks likely to go for either this race or the Albert Bartlett, run over three miles.
Henderson’s charge landed the well-regarded Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle on his first start in Britain in January and has continued to develop into a smart prospect. However, potential followers of the horse will be well aware that Henderson is 0-21 in this particular Festival race.