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Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle preview

Wednesday's Cheltenham card opens with the Neptune for novice hurdlers, over a slightly longer distance than Tuesday's opener. Once again, it's over to Chris Day, @chrisday100 for his preview.

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Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle
2m5f, Grade 1

The traditional curtain raise on Queen Mother Champion Chase day is The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, run over 2 miles 5 furlongs and often considered a better trial for next year’s Champion Hurdle than the Supreme, run over two miles on Tuesday.

This year’s betting is headed by two Willie Mullins’ runners (bet you didn’t expect that), both with very different backgrounds.

Nicholls Canyon, ridden by Ruby Walsh, is an ex-flat horse who rose to a rating of 104 for John Gosden before being bought by Graham Wylie and has won three of his four completed starts over hurdles, only unseating when favourite for a Leopardstown Grade 1 over Christmas. His last run was quite impressive as he dominated The Deloitte Hurdle field over three furlongs shorter, apparently improving for the step up in trip. Some pundits felt he jumped better in front which would be an obvious worry over a longer trip in a more competitive race. Willie Mullins recently likened him to Hurricane Fly and it’s probably fair to say he has a favourite’s chance.

Second favourite, Outlander, is a National Hunt bred, who was only beaten in a Punchestown bumper last season after winning three previously and has won twice over hurdles this season, being tremendously impressive over 2 ½ miles in a Leopardstown Grade 2 last time. In between he appeared to be outstayed on heavy ground at Leopardstown over three miles by my Albert Bartlett fancy, Martello Tower, who he turned the tables on in no uncertain fashion next time. Seven year olds don’t have a great record in this but I fancy he’ll put up a pretty big show for the Gigginstown team.

Windsor Park allows us to compare collateral form as he was second to Nicholls Canyon and fourth earlier to Outlander and, for my money, it was the latter who had his measure more easily. He was also a useful bumper horse who won his first two novice hurdles but has it all to do to reverse form with the two who beat him and there’s no form reason I can see for that to happen.

The main domestic hope is Parlour Games, a very useful flat handicapper for Godolphin in his day and winner of Newbury’s Challow Hurdle in December from Vyta Du Roc. He’d earlier travelled well before quickening away from Blaklion over course and distance in November and sets the standard for the home contingent. Interestingly, Challow winners have a desperate record in this and I have him a slightly less strong stayer than the Mullins’ horses so will pass him over.

Vyta Du Roc has done little wrong in winning a couple of decent races since a summer break before his Newbury second but I’ll be surprised if he has the scope to improve like others in the line up and Ordo Ab Chao, tough and genuine though he is, has already finished well behind him at Sandown and looked to need all of this test when successful on Trials’ Day. Put simply I think he’ll lack the speed to go with the big guns when the taps are turned on.

It was hard to fault Beast Of Burden’s Bangor win but also difficult to see it being enough to translate into victory here although he should make a lovely chaser some time soon, Snow Falcon has a mountain to climb on form but scope to improve, Warrantor had looked useful before flopping in the Lanzarote in January but did defeat the Imperial Cup winner at Chepstow in November and Anteros is surely here to secure owners’ badges for his connections.

In summary, it’s a tough race to call, as it should be, but I just think Outlander’s greater stamina will come into play in a truly run race and fancy a Mullins 1-2 (sorry to be unoriginal).

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