Neptune Novices Hurdle, Cheltenham Wed
The Neptune Novices Hurdle takes place at the Cheltenham Festival on Day Two at Prestbury Park as Nicky Henderson’s Simonsig, heavy odds favourite with Ladbrokes, faces up to Noel Meade’s Monksland, in what should be a spectacular curtain raiser for the Champion Chase.
The Irish have tasted many a success in the Neptune Investment Management Novices´ Hurdle; 16 to be precise since 1971, and they could be at it again this season with the Willie Mullins-trained Sous Les Cieux.
Mullins has trained two of the last four winners of this particular race (Fiveforthree 2008, Mikael D’Haguenet 2009) and has also saddled the third (Oscars Well) last season.
The well-established Mullins yard seem to target this race every season with their top middle-distance hurdler and it seems as though the selection has that tag this season.
It has taken time for the six-year-old to get to grips with the racing game after Mullins had started campaigning him over two miles, but experience is key trait to possess in a race this nature, as 22 of the last 25 winners have had at least three runs over hurdles.
Sir Les Cieux has run six times over hurdles but looks very unexposed over two miles and five furlongs, which Mullins has now realised is his best trip. Staying certainly looked his game when finishing behind Benefficent very strongly at Leopardstown last time out, where the winner stole the race from the front.
That form should be reversed easily in the Neptune as Cheltenham isn’t a track that favours front runners and this race looks set up for a strong finisher like the Mullins raider.
Nicky Henderson’s Simonsig is likely to go off a very warm favourite but doesn’t look the type that will appreciate the tough nature of the race and looks easy to swerve at short prices. Anyway, it’s been 22 runners since Henderson even got a horse to finish at least fifth in the race, let alone win it.
Monksland looks a good prospect for Noel Meade but he has only run twice over hurdles – that inexperience could find him out.