Vyta Du Roc looks a solid choice for this year’s Neptune renewal
With the five day declaration stage due tomorrow it may be time to try and obtain some value in the opener on Ladies’ Day, the Neptune Investment Management Novices´ Hurdle. This race has a long history of producing top-class horses; Istabraq and Hardy Eustace are two racing legends that immediately spring to mind while more recent victors include The New One and Faugheen.
Run over two miles five furlongs on Cheltenham’s Old Course, a mix of speed and stamina is needed to score here. Historically, in recent seasons anyway, Ireland and Great Britain have shared the race. The Emerald Isle scored with Faugheen last season and once again look to have a strong team with the likes of Nichols Canyon, Outlander and Windsor Park. The British challenge is led by the John Ferguson’s Parlour Games.
Neptune Investment Management Novices´ Hurdle Preview
Willie Mullins has a fantastic record in this race and he holds two leading chances in Nichols Canyon and Outlander this year. Mullins usually tries to avoid running his big guns against each other, but given they operate for different owners, Graham Wylie and Gigginstown House Stud, respectively, he has no choice but to run the pair here. We’ll start with the former.
Previously a classy horse on the flat for John Gosden, Nichols Canyon is potentially looking a first-rate recruit to the jumping game. Rated 111 on the level before joining the Mullins yard, if the Irish Champion trainer could get this son of Authorized jumping connections would have a serious animal on their hands.
Having taken a little time to warm to hurdling this five-year-old is slowly but surely improving his technique. Back in November Mullins started his newly acquired purchase in a Cork maiden hurdle.
Despite pulling fiercely for the majority of the race, and jumping a touch awkwardly at times, he and Ruby Walsh would run out a conformable winner pulling 17 lengths clear of the third. No time was wasted in stepping the gelding up in class as his next racetrack start came in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.
While still keen he did settle better and showed improvement in the jumping department. Five lengths would separate him and the second horse as a classy performance was seen. He didn’t the credit he deserved for this win, however, given his better fancied stablemate was pulled-up through injury.
With Nichols Canyon unseating next time out at Leopardstown over the Festive period the doubts about the above Fairyhouse victory had a multiplier effect seeing him go off a 9/2 shot in his next contest, he Deloitte Novice Hurdle.
Despite once more facing a better fancied stablemate Nichols Canyon would get the job done in a no nonsense fashion to claim his second Grade 1 race over hurdles. Having made the running under Ruby Walsh, at a good gallop, the pair would grind there opposition into the crown for a three-and-a-half length success. He was probably value for more, too.
While Nichols Canyon hasn’t got the sexy profile of some of his stablemates going to Cheltenham he’s a hugely experienced and classy horse. His jumping could be slicker at times, but overall we have no serious issues with it.
A classy flat pedigree, flat experience and the fact he is a readymade hurdler in physique means he ticks an awful lot of boxes. Coming from the Mullins yard with Ruby Walsh likely to ride only adds to our confidence.
As stated above, Willie Mullins has a strong hand in this race. For Gigginstown House Stud the Carlow handler looks set to run Outlander, previously a quality bumper horse in the 2012/13 season. The big son of Stowaway missed all of last season through injury, but has made a full recovery and now resumes his career over hurdles.
The seven-year-old would get back to winning ways quickly when scoring easily in a Fairyhouse maiden hurdle at odds of 4/9. In heavy ground he travelled nicely before slowly extending away over a trip that was probably short of his best. To the eye it was impressive, but the quality of those in behind was poor.
Given how substandard the form was of his previous win it came as a small surprise to see connections run the gelding in a Limerick Grade 3 next time out. Under David Casey Outlander would step a full mile up in trip in the three mile contest.
With only three runners it was a farcical race, however, given the early pace. Sat last of the trio he was most inconvenienced by his position throughout. The fact he was keen didn’t help his cause either. This wouldn’t stop him from running a big race, however, as he cruised going to the second last hurdle.
Having looked the winner there it was disappointing to see him beaten as he was just out stayed close home. A drop in trip looked needed and he got that on his next start in the Grade 2 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.
A faster early tempo and a drop in distance worked the oracle as Outlander ran out a hugely impressive three-and-a-quarter lengths winner. In doing so the form of his Limerick run with Martello Tower was turned on its head.
A strong ability to travel nicely was once more seen, but this time bay wouldn’t stop; this trip looking ideal. With Outlander clearly progressing from run to run he has to be considered for the Neptune. He comes here in rude health representing top connections so he gets our full respect.
So too will the British leading challenger Parlour Games who comes into this race with a similar profile to Nichols Canyon. Like the aforementioned Willie Mullins horse Parlour Games was a classy flat campaigner.
In his pomp on the level the son of Monsun was rated 99 for the Boys in Blue, Godolphin before joining the John Ferguson Bloomfields outfit. Connections started him at the earliest opportunity this season back in May meaning he still holds his novice status.
The positive with this strategy implied is Parlour Games has managed to get plenty of race experience under his belt. The seven-year-old was considered good enough to take his chance in the Galway Hurdle. It didn’t go according to plan this particular day, experience lacking probably finding him out more than anything.
Since then, however, Parlour Games has really upped his game in the next three runs. At Kempton in a Listed novice hurdler he was unlucky to bump into the highly progressive Blue Heron who has since gone on to bigger and better things.
The run can be marked up for us, too, given he appeared to travel like the best horse in the race – in fact he was too keen – before either getting tired or outsprinted over the medium trip. It’s also worth noting he gave the winner two pounds.
While the form of his previous run was hard to weigh-up at the time it allowed the fluid-jumping gelding to go off a 10/1 shot in his next race. At Cheltenham in the Grade 2 Hyde Novices’ Hurdle Parlour Games would burst on to the novice scene with an hugely impressive four-and-a-half lengths win.
The reapplication of the hood, apparatus he had worn earlier in his career, appeared to help as he settled nicely in the hands of Barry Geraghty. His quick jumping smooth travelling abilities were once more seen before a potent turn of foot saw him explode to the front after the last. While the slow run nature of the race probably suited him best, it was still a taking victory.
A crack at the top-level would come next in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury. Held-up last off a better gallop than his previous race and this time in the hands of Noel Fehily Parlour Games once more showed his strong travelling ability as he loomed up to the field two out. It looked as if he’d once more impress, but it wasn’t the case.
For whatever reason his potent turn of foot wasn’t seen this time, maybe the stronger gallop numbing one of his best assets. While it looked disappointing given how well he travelled a win was still gained and that is important.
John Ferguson has chosen not to run his Neptune hope since this day and for us, that is a worry. The Challow took place in December 2014 and coming here against sharp race fit rivals may count against him on the day. That is the main worry, but there is plenty to like about this son of Monsun.
The horse that was runner-up behind Parlour Games was Nicky Henderson’s Vyta Du Roc whose winning sequence of four races was ended here. He didn’t give up easily, however, as he pushed the winner all the way up the straight.
The Seven Barrows inmate has a great attitude and while he doesn’t help himself by racing lazily you know when Barry Geraghty asks him for all he will deliver. Despite being a chaser in the making he hurdles quite well.
Whether this French import deserves to be three times the price of Parlour Games based on their Challow Hurdle run is debatable. A stronger pace along with him having more scope for improvement may see him get closer at Cheltenham. The one worry is, like Parlour Games, he hasn’t run since December and that’s always a negative for us. Another concern would be connections go down the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle route with him.
As well as Nichols Canyon and Outlander Ireland have another useful contender in Windsor Park. Dermot Weld’s classily-bred son of Galileo was a very solid bumper horse who has also showed his class to win on the level.
Connections have scrapped plans for a flat career at the moment and the six-year-old now goes jumping obstacles. Three hurdles efforts have all come at Leopardstown this campaign. At Leopardstown’s Festive fixture he started his new career in grand style when winning a useful maiden over two-and-a-half miles.
While his jumping needed touching up it was good to see him travel well before showing an ability to quicken and stay. The Grade 2 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle was next, but Davy Russell’s mount could only finish fourth behind the improving Outlander.
Despite holding a classy flat pedigree Windsor Park showed he stayed strongly on his previous run so he may have been inconvenienced by the lacklustre pace. Either that or the slightly better Irish terrain saw him vulnerable to speedier types.
The Dr Lambe-owned gelding would show his best for of the season behind Nichols Canyon on his next start, however, when finishing second in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle. Once more jumping mistakes were seen – he doesn’t look a natural in this department – before running on soundly.
He never looked like beating Nichols Canyon, but he gave him a good head start so may be able to get closer if ridden more prominently at Cheltenham. On the other hand the winner did far more early running than Windsor Park so it’s also possible the runner-up was flattered to finish as close.
Either way it was a sound run and the step-up in trip will suit him at Cheltenham. Whether or not he can turn the tables with the Mullins horse is debatable.
Best of the Rest
Despite there still being 73 entries in the Neptune, it’s nigh on impossible to have full faith in what will run. A big talking horse for the season has been Tell Us More – yet another from the Willie Mullins yard, but mystery still remains about his intended target or even if he runs.
The son of Scorpion impressed on his hurdles debut earlier in the campaign, but was beaten at odds of 4-5 on his next start, albeit in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle. That form doesn’t look good enough regardless and for us he should run in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle if making the trip over from Ireland.
Ordo Ab Chao deserves a positive mention for his Grade 2 Classic Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last time out. While getting the job done the form doesn’t look strong enough and drying ground means he may not even run.
Of the rest we really don’t know what will run.
The BetBright Verdict
While a battalion of horses are still left in it looks a safe bet to play the obvious horses. Those at double figure prices currently may struggle although Vyta Du Roc is by far and away the most interesting.
The problem is we don’t know will he run here yet, nothing has been confirmed, but it’s interesting he has been backed for this race in the last few days. We’ll hold on to him just for the moment.
With Tell Us More and Ordo Ab Chao also doubtful runners, but with much weaker form they are easily put to the side.
We are not getting fancy and the ones to concentrate on Nichols Canyon, Outlander, Parlour Games, Vtya Du Roc and Windsor Park.
Of that quintet, Windsor Park is the first horse we will discard. Despite his classy pedigree we don’t feel he jumps well enough on what we have seen. It may well improve in a stronger run race over further, but even so, we’d fancy Nichols Canyon to uphold their meeting in the Deloitte.
The Mullins horse did all the donkey work at a decent gallop and Windsor Park looked flattered to finish as close. It’s not beyond him to turn the tables with different tactics employed, but Nichols Canyon looks more solid to us.
Parlour Games is the next horse to go for us. The main reason is value in comparison to Vyta Dr Roc, who looks like he’ll run here, if market vibes are to be believed. There was only a head between the pair at Newbury and we feel the younger Henderson horse has more scope to improve.
John Ferguson’s horse does an awful lot right, however, so it’s through gritted teeth we pass him over. He jumps beautifully and travels with great zest, but the one worry we have is how he will hold-up in a strong run race at this level over the two miles five furlongs trip.
The Willie Mullins pair of Nichols Canyon and Outlander will passed over at this juncture on value grounds, too. We’re hoping both don’t shorten too much at tomorrow’s declaration stage as on the day the pair will be of interest.
Nichols Canyon would slightly edge it for us of the pair given he looks an ideal hurdling type who should handle better ground. That we are not sure about with Outlander who looks a big old horse that will appreciate a fence in time.
The selection at this time will be VYTA DU ROC who we hope goes for the Neptune. The market suggests he will, but nothing has been confirmed publicly. In a stronger run race we could see him turning the Challow form with Parlour Games. Given he is three times the price that looks like a value play.
Although he will be a chaser down the line he jumps well and better ground shouldn’t bother him. His long break off the track isn’t ideal, but he is trained by a man who targets this Festival so hopefully he has him ready, and hopefully he runs.
1pt each-way VYTA DU ROC @14/1
The Netpune goes off at 13.30 on Day Two of the Festival, Wednesday, March 11th.