The opening race of day two has a strong roll of honour in recent years, with names such as Faugheen, Simonsig and Hardy Eustace, all winning the race en route to future Cheltenham glory, and it would be no surprise to see the favourite for this year's renewal dominate the headlines ahead of future Festivals.
Yanworth or Bust
The Alan King trained Yanworth has been all the rage in the market for the Neptune since winning the trial of the same name back in January. However, momentum had been slowly building around the six-year-old since it made a winning seasonal debut at Exeter, in November.
Named after a small village just 14 miles from Cheltenham Racecourse, Yanworth finished fourth in the Bumper at last year's Festival, and whilst finishing just over three lengths behind winner, Moon Racer, he caught the eye as he raced widest of the 23 runners, taking the longest route around Prestbury Park. His first run over hurdles saw him justify 4/11 favouritsm in the hands of jockey, Barry Geraghty, who has remained his pilot in his three subsequent wins. Victory at Warwick followed just two weeks after his Exeter success, before mking the jump to graded company in Ascot's Supremem Trial, in December, where he won on the bridle, promoting a flurry of support for the Supreme Novices' Hurlde. However, following words of caution form Alan King that nothing was set in stone, the step up in trip over the Neptune course and distance, brought about even more improvment, with Yanworth crusing to a seven length victory and automatic Neptune Novices' Hurlde favouritsm, with his odds slashed from 10/1 to 2/1 upon passing the winners post.
Support over the past month has seen the price of the JP McManus owned runner contracted further, to the point that he is odds-on in many places, with Paddy Power's 5/4, currently the best odds available.
There are very few negatives surrounding Yanworth, he's won on a variety of going, has shown he relishes a trip around Cheltenham and is trained and owned by duo that are no strangers to Festival success. As such, I'm going to put my proverbial 'knackers on the block' and say that Yanworth looks like one of the stronger short-priced favourites of the 28 race meeting.
Best of the Rest - The Mullins Lottery
Having landed the Neptune three times in the past eight years, any entry representing Willie Mullins, must deserve respect. That is certainly the case with Yorkhill, who heads across the Irish Sea with an unbeaten record under rules. The six-year-old won two bumpers last season, before landing his first two starts over obstacles, back-to-back, in December and January. He is another, of which, that there is plenty to like, however, he holds a five day declaration in the Supreme, which could be his more likely target. If he bypasses that for the Neptune, he must rate a big danger, but it could be stablemate, A Toi Phil, that represents the best chance of another Mullins winner in this race.
A Toi Phil arrived at the Mullins yard from France last spring and after 'running out' on his racecourse debut in Ireland, has won his last two starts, the most recent of which was an easy 2m 4f victory at Leopardstown. There's likely plenty more to come but of the market leaders, Yanworth's form is the more impressive, hence his 8/1 quotes.
Bellshill is another Willie Mullins runner, and the winner of last season's Irish Champion Bumper looked like living up to the hype on his first three (winning) starts over hurdles, but after disappointing last time out, when third of just five runners at Leopardstown, he has plenty to prove if he is to bounce back.
Long Dog is also towards the top of the betting for Mullins, and whilst he would command respect if taking his place, after winning six from six over hurdles in the past 12 months, the uncertainty surrounding all the County Carlow entries, only adds support to the case of Yanworth, with Mullins and his connections seemingly undecided on the best routes for many of their runners. With five of the current top nine in the market, the embarrassment of riches may be the envy of many trainers, but could the confusion caused by having so many options and entries in other races, result in others being able to take advantage?
With less than a week to go, Yanworth is the clear form pick and the only one certain to race in the Neptune of those making up the Neptune market. Once the field cuts up at the five day decs stage, there may be a better idea about the competiton. However, whilst there are so many 'will they, won't they' questions surrounding many of the runners, Yanworth is the clear pick.
Yanworth to win the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle @ 5/4 with Paddy Power.