The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle is always an interesting race, due to the clash between speed horses and staying types. Winners of the race usually follow very different career paths and some serious horses have landed the race in the past, such as Galileo, Hardy Eustace and of course, the legendary Istabraq. This year, the bookies have the race between two clear favourites, but we’re not so sure…

When trying to find the winner of the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, looking at current form is crucial. 27 of the last 28 winners of this particular race had finished first or second last time out, with fifteen of the last twenty having won their last race prior to the Cheltenham Festival; on that evidence, we should certainly be looking to find an in form horse for the 2012 renewal!

The race used to be a pretty easy one to solve – back the favourite! But in the last ten years, only Mikael D’Haguenet (2009) has managed to win the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle after starting as favourite. With winning SPs ranging from 3.50 (5/2) to 21.00 (20/1) in that same ten year period, we no longer need to be put off by a bigger price when attempting to find the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle winner.

Another crucial trend to consider when looking for the winner of the 2012 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, is age – the eventual winner is almost always aged five or six and it’s fairly safe to discount any older or younger horses. Since 1974, there has only been one winner aged older than six (French Holly, aged seven back in 1998) and only three four year old horses have won the race in its 40 year history, the last coming back in 1991 (Crystal Spirit).

When looking at trial races for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, the most important is probably the Navan Novices’ Hurdle – in the last six years, one winner and one runner up have gone on to victory at the Cheltenham Festival. It can be argued that the Deloitte Novices’ Hurdle is a another reasonable pointer to the Festival, as Danoli, Istabraq and Hardy Eustace all lined up there before winning at Cheltenham, but the most recent of those was in 2003.

One last key trend to consider concerns big race form. Twelve of the last fourteen winners had run in a Graded race before their trip to the Cheltenham Festival, which suggests that we should be looking for a horse aimed at these pattern races, rather than a lightly campaigned type, which is something more suited to the other big Cheltenham Novices’ Hurdle, the Supreme.

So let’s look at the 2012 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle field and see what we can find. We know that we’re ideally looking for a five or six year old that won or finished second last time out, with at least one Graded run under its belt, while a decent starting point would be the Navan Novices’ Hurdle winner.

This immediately gives us a problem, as second favourite Boston Bob (best price 7.00, Paddy Power, Bet365), the winner of the Navan Novices’ Hurdle, is seven years old (though it is probably worth considering that the horse did come to National Hunt racing quite late, having made his bumper debut just a year ago). If we follow the trends strictly, then we need to put a line through Boston Bob.

The favourite Fingal Bay (best price 6.00, Ladbrokes) does look a serious contender on form, but I’m prepared to rule him simply due to his trial race. The Challow Hurdle, won by Fingal Bay at the end of December, is a terrible trial race for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle in terms of trends. Thirteen horses have won that race and gone on to compete in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival – all thirteen have failed. Always keen to oppose a favourite, I’m going to use this strong trend as an excuse to justify looking elsewhere.

One that I keep coming back to when looking at this 2012 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle is Batonnier. Alan King’s charge has plenty of experience, having posted a couple of decent efforts already this season before really improving to land the Grade Two Classic Novice’s Hurdle at Cheltenham at the end of January. I think he could improve a little more at the Festival and at a best price of 17.00 (Bet365, SportingBet, Paddy Power) he offers us much more value than the market leaders.

Advice:

The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle
Wednesday 14th March 2012, 14:05

Batonnier (Each-Way) @ 17.00 (Bet365SportingBet or Paddy Power)