THERE is a tremendous sense of déjà vu when it comes to the running of this year’s Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle (1.30pm).
This time last year a well-fancied English-trained runner was a warm order for the opening contest of the second day, with a Willie Mullins-trained second favourite lurking in the shadows.
As the ground dried out, Yorkhill usurped Yanworth as favourite and ran away with the prize in a convincing manner.
Neon Wolf, as short as 7/4 with Paddy Power, has been the buzz horse for this year’s meeting for the last week or so.
He was an impressive winner of his only bumper start and followed that with an equally facile victory on his hurdling bow at Exeter.
However, it was his nine length demolition job on Elgin in a two mile Grade 2 at Haydock last time that marked him down as being a bit special.
Connections opted to run in this race over a longer trip rather than take their chance in yesterday’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but have made no secret of their desire for some cut in the ground.
With no rain forecast, conditions seem to be against Neon Wolf and are beginning to shift in favour of Mullins’ BACARDYS at 3/1 with 188BET.
He was a top bumper performer after running well here last season and winning at Aintree.
In fact, he is unlucky not to have won in all three hurdling starts as he was unfortunate when falling on his debut.
He was an impressive winner of the Deloitte Hurdle on his latest start and looked like a step up to this sort of trip would be ideal.
Sporting Index currently have Neon Wolf as a ½ length favourite over Bacardys in a match bet and that looks a decent sell to me.
As for the others, Messire Des Obeaux has been ultra-consistent all season and won the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury over Christmas.
He is tough and looks the most obvious to pick up the pieces should the leading players fluff their lines.
Trying to find the winner of the 26 runner Coral Cup (2.50pm) doesn’t look the easiest of tasks with favourite Tombstone appearing like the most obvious winner.
Last year’s Supreme Novices’ fourth has been talked about as a potential Champion Hurdle contender, but connections opted to take this on from what looks a very workable handicap mark
He can be backed at 11/2 with the sponsors and that seems fair enough as he could well be a class above these.
That said, I prefer to take a chance on Irish raider PEREGRINE RUN at 10/1 with skybet as he is equally well handicapped on his running here earlier in the season on similar ground.
He too had the option of taking up more glamourous engagements at this meeting, but connections have wisely opted to run here.
I had expected the Nicky Henderson-trained Consul De Thaix to join him, but his connections opted to go for the Neptune earlier on in the afternoon.
Instead, they rely on the once highly-regarded HARGAM, who lines up this afternoon off a handicap of just 140.
On recent evidence, it appears that his best days are well behind him. But don’t forget that this time last year he was considered good enough to run in a Champion Hurdle.
His current mark could be ludicrously lenient potentially, and I’m certainly prepared to take an each-way chance on him at 18/1 with Skybet.
Henderson also holds a tremendous chance in the Fred Winter (4.50pm) where he saddles 6/1 favourite DIVIN BERE.
He hasn’t raced since making an impressive debut at Huntingdon where he gave weight and a beating to Master Blueyes.
The pair drew a mile clear of the third horse that day with Alan King’s juvenile winning since and putting himself firmly in Friday’s Triumph Hurdle mix.
Irish raider Long Call is the obvious danger on paper, but my concern with him is that he is plenty high enough in the weights and his stable aren’t in great form.
I was tempted to put up either Linger or Dino Velvet as a value alternative to the favourite, but the more I look at the race, the more I fancy Henderson’s runner.
Bacardys 1.30pm Cheltenham
Sell Neon Wolf in match 1.30pm Cheltenham
bet against Bacardys
Peregrine Run e/w 2.50pm Cheltenham
Hargam e/w 2.50pm Cheltenham
Divin Bere e/w 4.50pm Cheltenham