Willie Mullins' N'golo has bounced back from his difficulties and could well be a contender for the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March says Tony Calvin in his ante-post extra...
"I think the horse is simply crying out for a proper gallop to aim at over 2m, and he certainly did not get that on Sunday, where he did remarkably well to finish so close given that he never settled in a very slowly-run race."
I will have a look at the weekend's racing on Tuesday - it was good to see my long-range 20/1 selection Greaneteen among the eight entries for Saturday's Betfair Tingle Creek at Sandown - but I thought it was about time I broke the seal on my Cheltenham ante-post recommendations.
And hopefully putting up N'golo at 33/1 win-only with the Betfair Sportsbook for the Supreme Novices Hurdle, or at a similar price on the exchange, is well worth doing so.
He would remain a bet at 25/1+, by the way. In fact, probably 20s and upwards.
Rewards may await risk-takers
As with all ante-post recommendations, especially one this far out, it comes with a fair degree of risk.
And many will no doubt think I am putting him up for the wrong Festival race, as some of the layers cut him for the Ballymore after his third at the weekend, with one firm making him as low as 14s for that 2m5f novices' hurdle.
But I take a different view, and a betting one at that at 33s.
N'golo looked a million to be winning any race at Cheltenham after being pulled up as a 4/5 chance at Kilbeggan in August, and connections appear still not to have got to the bottom of that poor run.
But regardless, the horse has bounced back in impressive fashion, winning at Listowel before going on to Grade 3 success in a first-time tongue-tie at Navan, and his Sunday third in the Grade 1 Royal Bond was another step forward.
In fact, I think he shaped as the best horse in the race despite being beaten two lengths by the well-touted winner and a hat-trick seeker in second.
You can see why some would look to step up him up from 2m after that performance. He won over an extended 1m6f on the Flat in France and he finished off best of all over the minimum trip at Fairyhouse. And stamina did win the day at Navan.
But that is not how I am reading the race - we can get too blasé about horse's getting another 5f, as if it is just a gentle stroll to the corner shop - and I hope Willie Mullins agrees.
N'golo would relish Cheltenham stamina test
I think the horse is simply crying out for a proper gallop to aim at over 2m, and he certainly did not get that on Sunday, where he did remarkably well to finish so close given that he never settled in a very slowly-run race.
In fact, he pulled the whole way round and still came back for more up the straight after getting momentarily tapped for toe, and having to be switched.
You can really see him progressing even further when presented with a stamina test over 2m, as he surely will be at Cheltenham, and we know the Tuesday of the Festival is the day where you are at least guaranteed ease in the ground (via watering, if needed).
If you fancy the Fairyhouse winner Ballyadam at around 7s for the Festival-opener, then you have to love N'golo at nearly five times the price - the differential in odds is madness, although I accept that observation is worthless if you think Ballyadam is underpriced! - and the selection is exactly the type of hardy horse you need for the Supreme.
I know it can be won by flashy, speed types, like Shishkin last year - some wanted him to go 2m5f after his Sidney Banks win last season - but it often goes to a grinder who stays a lot further down the line.
N'golo can hit a flat spot, so maybe connections will consider headgear to go with the tongue-tie - especially if that keenness resurfaces next time - but I like his progressive profile as it stands, at 33s, so blinkers or a hood will hopefully not be required.
He reminds me more than a little of the trainer and owner's Champagne Fever (and not because he is a grey, too), who was unsuccessfully tried over 2m4f (albeit he came back ill from that defeat) before winning the Supreme in 2013, namely in that he is a staying two-miler.
And Champagne Fever got beaten in the Royal Bond, too, before his Supreme win.