Neptune Novices' Hurdle Preview: Gigginstown challenger Out-standing value

Bryan Cooper looks set to partner Outlander in the Neptune
Bryan Cooper looks set to partner Outlander in the Neptune
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Timeform's Ben Fearnley has an ante-post tip for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle, set to be run at Cheltenham on the second day of the Festival...

Outlander put up an impressive performance when dropping back in trip to win a Grade 2 over two and a half miles at Leopardstown, catching the eye with the way in which he moved through the race..


It's not original, but the only place to start is with Willie Mullins' extraordinarily-strong squad of novices.

Seven of the first 11 in the market for the Neptune are trained by Mullins, and identifying his likely runners is a job in itself, though Nichols Canyon, an impressive winner of the Deloitte at Leopardstown last time, looks a likely participant based on comments by his owner Graham Wylie. The fact Black Hercules and Shaneshill are in the same ownership would suggest they may be targeted elsewhere, with the Supreme looking an obvious option for Shaneshill, while Black Hercules should be well suited by the demands of the Albert Bartlett.

Nichols Canyon impressed many with his victory in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle earlier this month, showing smart form as he burst the significant bubble of stable companion Alvisio Ville (also entered here but now seemingly destined for the Supreme along with Douvan). This smart flat recruit out of the John Gosden yard has winning form over a range of distances (stayed two miles) and has proven effective on most types of ground, and he's essentially a likeable type. The powerful way in which he stayed on to win over 18 furlongs at Leopardstown points to the stiffer test of stamina at Cheltenham being in his favour, and the fact he's likely to be partnered again by Ruby Walsh, who gave him a superb ride from the front last time, is another clear positive. 

Runner-up at Leopardstown was Dermot Weld's Windsor Park, who perhaps was better than the bare result suggested, left with a lot to do as the winner kicked clear. Windsor Park's jumping will need to improve if he's to make a significant impact in the Neptune, but he has to be given a decent chance, such is the positive overall impression he's created so far. He makes limited ante-post appeal, however, as his trainer is waiting on the ground to make a decision about which race he will go for. Weld has stated that a lack of cut in the ground would see Windsor Park stepped up to three miles in the Albert Bartlett, with the Neptune the likely option given a softer surface. With such uncertainty it's difficult to recommend him.

The chief British-trained challenger is Parlour Games, a useful Flat horse who has achieved even more over obstacles, running to a Timeform rating of 150 in winning the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury last time out, stepping up on the form of his previous win at Cheltenham. Both races have been encouraging but the slight doubt is that he has yet to face an end-to-end gallop, and it remains to be seen if his stamina will stand up to this different test. If it does, he is in with a big chance.

Nicky Henderson has a wealth of hurdling talent at his disposal in the juvenile ranks, and has a leading player in the Supreme with L'ami Serge, but he hasn't got a great deal in the Neptune, his shortest-priced runner available at 16/1. Kilcrea Vale clearly possesses plenty of ability and he destroyed the field on his sole start in January, showing useful form as he ran away with a novice hurdle at Market Rasen. His inexperience in a race of this nature would have to rank as a concern, though, and Henderson has recently been quoted as saying 'he needs to show something this week', so his place in the starting line-up is by no means assured.

The final British representative worth a mention is Ordo Ab Chao, who disappointed at Sandown in December (potentially due to the heavy going) yet bounced back to form at Cheltenham on Trials Day, springing a 16/1 upset when lowering the colours of the much-vaunted Value At Risk. His current odds may well underestimate him again, and he could provide an interesting each-way alternative to the main selection.

Long-time ante-post favourite Tell Us More lost his unbeaten record to stable companion McKinley at Naas in January, a disappointing result when you consider that his conqueror had previously looked something of a stable lesser light. Tell Us More has a bit to prove on the back of that effort, while he's not even certain to make the trip (reports suggest that he hasn't been impressing at home), but it's not all doom and gloom for Gigginstown as they can rely on Outlander, a horse whose achievements outweigh those of the much-hyped Tell Us More.

Outlander put up an impressive performance when dropping back in trip to win a Grade 2 over two and a half miles at Leopardstown, catching the eye with the way in which he moved through the race. There's plenty of substance to go with the style, though, as that performance earned him a Timeform rating of 153p, putting him 2 lb ahead of his shorter-priced stablemate Nichols Canyon. The way he traveled at Leopardstown and the fact he is a sure stayer (gets three miles) means, at the prices, he is preferred to both Parlour Games and Nichols Canyon, and he looks decent value.

Recommended bet:

1pt win Outlander @ 7.613/2 in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle

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