Cheltenham Festival 2012 

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By Billy Blakeman ValueChecker

Wikis Point to Batonnier in Neptune Investments Hurdle

The Neptune Investments Novices Hurdle is certainly not the easiest race to crack and with 118-entries, it is especially hard ante-post. The winner is in there somewhere though so let’s look at some of the key trends.

© Racehorse Photos


Horses aged 5 or 6 have taken the last ten runnings so if we abide by that age range, the field reduces down to just 94. The Irish have taken 5 of the last 10 renewals but that isn’t any higher than would be expected. Bearing in mind Willie Mullins’ excellent record with hurdlers at the Festival, his contingent must be considered a strong group but with more entries than I care to count, it is difficult to judge what the pecking order is.

Whilst looking at trainers, Nicky Henderson has a notably poor record of 0-22 over the past 5-years. That poses a bit of a conundrum as the Seven Barrows maestro has a really strong entry, both in numbers and quality. It could be that this year Henderson turns over the stats disciples but for those who follow blindly, cross the Henderson horses off.

There are a lot of other 8/10 & 9/10 trends kicking around but these are totally explained by chance alone. So many of the field will have not been out the first two, will have won their last start, run in a higher class, not been to the festival before (this is a novice hurdle!), won over 2 miles 4f etc. and such supposed pointers tell us little.

More relevant is that the race seems to favour those at the head of the market; a ten-year average of just above 17/2 being lower than might have been expected. So, we are looking at a 5 or 6-y-o, likely to be well-fancied and preferably at this stage, a horse who we think will run in this race rather than the Albert Bartlett, Supreme Novices or one of the handicaps.

Fingal Bay
© Racehorse Photos

Fingal Bay
Philip Hobbs’ Fingal Bay certainly looks to tick what boxes we have and he is a warm favourite at around 5/1. I see no reason to crab his chance but he is also 7/1 for the Albert Bartlett. That equates to his odds actually being little better than 11/4 for this race and that can’t be said to be value.

Batonnier fits the trends and crucially, the Neptune has been named his sole target. Not as unexposed as some and after a winning debut in a bumper, he managed to run up a string of 7-defeats but it all came good at Cheltenham in January where he gave Broadbackbob a 3-length beating. That rather confirmed that stamina is his forte and that is always a useful quality to hold going into the Festival. Yet to race on anything worse than good to soft but I doubt soft would trouble him. It may be of course that something less exposed will improve past him but he fits the trends, looks likely to run and ought to be thereabouts.

I have already touched on Willie Mullins and in fact he has 17 entered! I couldn’t be sure this one will even run therefore but I do like the look of Perfect Gentleman. Although this 7-y-o does not fit the age trend, he has only had one run which was this year so it isn’t possible to rule him out on being too exposed! That sole run resulted in an easy win in a Cork bumper, where he was quite green. Mullins was keen to stress the horse could only improve and he has a double-entry at Thurles on February the 9th. Should he win well in whichever engagement is chosen, he could certainly be shorter that the 50/1 he currently is.

Theatre Guide won a Chepstow bumper and was not only thought good enough by trainer Colin Tizzard to travel over to Ireland for a 50k Fairyhouse bumper, he was made 9/4 favourite to beat the Irish. Finished runner-up which was a good effort, even though the race hasn't really worked out too well. A half-brother to Clarified, who progressed well and was a short price to win at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival when taking a fatal fall. Everything went wrong on his hurdling debut after a summer break; he pulled far too hard and didn't jump at all. Likely to be balloted out but worth watching on February 10th where he is down to run at Kempton and if he did make the line-up, he would be a credible outsider in my book.

In summary, this is a race that needs revisiting nearer the time but for now, Batonnier looks the safest option, being one of only three Alan King entries. Willie Mullins’ final entries and, despite the ominous stats, Nicky Henderson’s chosen team on the day should also be given the maximum respect.

Recommendation: Batonnier at 20/1, Perfect Gentleman at 50/1


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