Willie Mullins' embarrassment of riches within the novice hurdling ranks has had some National Hunt aficionados tipping the County Carlow maestro to do a clean sweep of all the elite novice hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival, and the dominant Irishman could well reign supreme in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle with a progressive seven-year-old. We take an in-depth look at this year's renewal of the 2m 5f Grade 1 and feel that the aforementioned Mullins could well come to the fore as he unleashes a strong battalion in the opening race on day two of the festival.
Main Neptune Novices' Hurdle Contenders
Nichols Canyon was a very smart performer for John Gosden on the Flat and reached a career high when landing the Listed Noel Murless Stakes at Ascot, but the five-year-old son of Authorized has blossomed since a switch to the hurdling sphere and he currently heads the Neptune Novices' Hurdle betting at 9/2 with Sky Bet Bookmakers.
He propelled into the Cheltenham Festival reckoning when storming to a five-length win in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, and whilst he was a faller in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Christmas, he bounced back to form with aplomb by beating a host of top notch performers in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last month.
Sent to the front from the flag fall, Willie Mullins' charge managed to see off late surges from both Alvisio Ville and Windsor Park, and he was immediately launched to the head of the Neptune betting, as he looks to emulate the mighty Faugheen's victory of 12 months ago.
Dermot Weld is a man you can't underestimate and the Rosewell House master will send the aforementioned Windsor Park to Prestbury Park on March 11 and at a current 10/1 with most firms is sure to attract some significant attention.
One win in three races over timber is not ideal form heading into this race, but he has improved with every run and should be on the vicinity as they freewheel down the hill. However, he may just lack that element of class to land this race that has been won by some star hurdlers in recent times.
Two starts ago Windsor Park was well beaten by Outlander in a Grade 2 event at Leopardstown and that Gigginstown House Stud-owned seven-year-old could well be the second shot fired from the Mullins' gun and at 7/1 with BetVictor bookmakers could be the one to be with in this Cheltenham Festival corker
A winner on his hurdling debut, Outlander was then just edged out of a 3m Grade 3 at Limerick by Martello Tower (40/1), but a drop back to 2m 4f last time out saw him turn the form around with that rival and having tanked into the lead in that Grade 2 event at Leopardstown in late January, he shaped as if there's a lot more to come.
An array of top notch hurdling prospects were behind him in that event, as the aforesaid Windsor Park could only finish third, whilst the likes of Killultagh Vic and No More Heroes (40/1) were unable to keep up with Outlander and at 13/2 he could be one to take on his stablemate Nichols Canyon.
Parlour Games was originally seen plying his trade in the Flat arena, but the former Godolphin charge has now ignited into a top notch hurdler for John Ferguson and with fine Cheltenham form to his name already, the Monsun gelding will attract many punters at 7/1 with Paddy Power.
Having landed the Grade 2 Neptune trial at Prestbury Park in November, he then went on to beat the classy pair of Vyta Du Roc and Blaklion in Newbury's Challow Novices' Hurdle and down the years that Grade 1 has been won by some elite hurdling talents.
He showed tremendous battling qualities to win the Challow in soft going, but if it were to dry out at Cheltenham in the lead-up to the race then he could well prove vulnerable to his rivals and he may just have to settle for minor honours in this real punting head-scratcher.
Worth A Second Look
Alan King's Ordo Ab Chao caused a 16/1 shock when winning the Neptune trial at Cheltenham's Festival Trials day last month and the Barbury Castle inmate is now the same price with BetVictor to emulate that fine display and reign in the Neptune on day two of the festival.
He showed tremendous battling qualities to outbattle Albert Bartlett hope Value At Risk, but whilst King's charge could be an each-way possibility he may just lack a little bit of speed to deal with some of his rivals in this crackerjack contest.
The Irish-trained horses swamp the upper echelons of the ante-post betting markets for the Neptune and it's hard to judge which stars Willie Mullins elects to send to this race, with many of his horses holding entries in either the Supreme Novices' Hurdle or Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.
Shaneshill certainly falls into this bracket and he is entered for all three novice events, but whilst he is a 12/1 shot for the Supreme, he is as big as 16/1 for the Neptune and should he take his chance then has to be a lively player having finished second in last year's Champion Bumper.
Tell Us More (16/1) was beaten at short odds by McKinley (33/1) in a Grade 1 at Naas in early January and are just another brace of Mullins-trained entries that could feature if handed this test over any of the other assignments at GL50.
Harry Fry's Thomas Brown was one of the stars of Cheltenham's New Year's Day meeting when winning the Neptune trial and with course and distance form could well run a stormer at 33/1 with Paddy Power, whilst Definitly Red (33/1) and the progressive Beast Of Burden (25/1) could be another duo fighting out it for Great Britain in the Prestbury Cup and warrant respect.
Warren Greatrex's Seedling (33/1) is the final one that is worth a second look at this stage as he was a fine winner at Cheltenham's International meeting, and if he were to line up in the Neptune would be a superb outsider to go to battle with, but it's likely he could well line up in the Supreme on the opening day, as he aims to land a shock festival win.
It may only be two weeks until the Cheltenham Festival kicks off, but the Neptune is still a really tough ante-post market to assess with Willie Mullins holding such a strong list of entries for the race, however, the master Irish handler can land the prize for the second year on the bounce with the exciting Outlander.
Nichols Canyon deserves to be favourite after an impressive win last time out, but he's going to find it tough to do it on the front end, and unless he is a superstar then could well be vulnerable to his stablemate Outlander, who can stalk the pace for most of the race, before unleashing a race-winning turn of foot to propel clear of his rivals.
At 7/1 with BetVictor, the Gigginstown House Stud challenger could be the one to side with in a race that will ignite day two of the festival and should be a cracking test for punters on March 11.