The confirmation that star novice middle distance hurdler Boston Bob is going for the Albert Bartlett Hurdle rather than this event has shifted the market firmly in the favour of Simonsig, who is short odds with Stan James to win for Nicky Henderson.
His price has contracted from around the 4/1 mark into a strong looking 2/1 shot and there is a feeling around punting circles that he could get a lot shorter come the day. Some even, have predicted he could go off even money if the wave of support continues in the vein.
Simonsg’s appearance in this race wasn’t far from certain until last week when trainer Nicky Henderson decided that the extra four furlongs in the Neptune would suit the horse better than the speedier nature of the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
I’m sure the fact that the Neptune looked a far less competitive race than the Supreme also played a lot in Henderson’s decision.
Thus far in his career Simonsig has shown all the credentials required of a top-class middle-distance hurdler; he travels expertly well in his races and his only defeat in his career came against Fingal Bay, who looks every bit a future Gold Cup winner for Phillip Hobbs but unfortunately is missing the Festival through an injury sustained to his hamstring.
The Irish have won four of the last six renewals and they have, according to the markets, the two most likely challengers to the well-backed ante-post jolly.
Monskland (8/1) has done nothing wrong in his career of hurdles to date, winning the Slaney Novice Hurdle in comfortable style while Sous Les Cieux (8/1), trained by Willie Mullins, also has a big reputation in Ireland but has yet to fulfil his undoubted potential.
Trainer Alan King has a strong Festival hand at his disposal this season and he also is well represented in the Neptune by Batonnier, who looks to be improving with every race following his stylish win over course and distance at the end of January.