The second day of the Cheltenham Festival begins with the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, which is run over two miles and five furlongs and includes ten hurdles. The race is open to entry for horses aged four years and above.
The race was first run in 1971 and it was initially called the Aldsworth Hurdle. In 1974, Sun Alliance took over sponsorship of the event and continued the association until 2006. Ballymore then backed the race until 2009. The following year, Neptune Investment Management assumed sponsorship.
Interestingly, Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle is not actually the official name of the race. Its registered title is the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle, in honour of the property developer Baring Bingham, who, following his purchase of Prestbury Park in 1898, organised the first ever Cheltenham Festival four years later.
So what does the profile of a Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle winner look like?
The last ten winners have all been either five or six years old (five wins each) with 18 places (six were five-year-olds and twelve were six-year-olds) out of 188 runners. The category ‘five and six-year-olds’ has accounted for 79 per cent of runners. Only two seven-year-olds have placed from 25 runners with no places or wins for both four-year-olds and eight-year-olds. Mares (female horses) have only gained one place from seven runners.
Nine out of ten winners were bred in either Ireland or France (seven Irish winners, two French winners). The British-bred horses have a poor run to win ratio, especially when you take into account that they represent 25 per cent of total runners. Simonsig’s win in 2012 is the only victory from the last ten renewals, with six places out of 41 runners.
When examining the last ten winners for trends, one particular statistic sparked my interest: 31 previous winners finished either first or second last time out. The past ten races also show that nine out of ten previous winners ran between three and six races from the start of the season until this event, with each winning on at least two of those occasions.
Eight out of ten winners earned a Racing Post Rating (RPR) of 145+ last time out. All of the last nine winners were bred by National Hunt (NH), with one of these rating 102 on the flat. Nine out of ten winners had already won over two miles and four furlongs or further.
Another interesting statistic is that all 14 Challow Hurdle winners that have taken part in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle have been beaten. 27 of the last 29 winners started in the first five of the betting. In the last six years, 16 of the last 18 placed horses started in the first four of the market, all of them with a starting price (SP) shorter than 8/1. Favourites have won three of the last ten renewals and show a level stakes loss of £1.
Willie Mullins has saddled three winners and five places from twelve runners in the past ten years, giving him a 67 per cent win/place to run percentage. Mouse Morris has saddled eight runners with one winner and two places, but two of those runners went off at 100/1 so can probably be discounted. Philip Hobbs and Donald McCain have saddled two runners each and have both had one victory, giving them a 50 per cent win to run percentage. Nigel Twiston-Davies has saddled nine runners in the last eleven years and two of these were winners. Nicky Henderson has had one winner (Simonsig) from ten runners. Paul Nicholls has had two places from six runners. Ian Williams has saddled two runners in the last 16 years, one placing at odds of 20/1 and the other at 100/1.
So we are looking to select a horse that is either five or six years old. It is to be National Hunt-bred, but the anomaly of being rated over 100 on the flat is acceptable. It must be a French or Irish gelding (male) that posted an RPR of 145+ on its last outing. It must have run in at least three hurdles races and a maximum of six, winning at least two of these races and never finishing outside the top two; preferably, one of these races will be a graded hurdle. It must have won a hurdles race over two miles and four furlongs. The horse should also be shorter than 8/1, and in the first five of the market. Preferably, it will have been trained in Ireland by either Willie Mullins or Mouse Morris or, if it’s British-trained, by Nigel Twiston-Davies.
In the eleven conditions above, the following horses performed well and should be considered for selection:
Shaneshill scored nine out of eleven.
Roi Des Francs also scored nine out of eleven.
Douvan scored nine out of eleven, but the horse is likely to run in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
The other selection from the top five of the betting is Nichols Canyon, who scored eight out of eleven. The horse’s run in Leopardstown, when the jockey was unseated, can be excused; had it finished in the top two, it would’ve scored nine out of eleven in our criteria.
My recommendation is for three each-way selections: Nichols Canyon, available at 5/1, Shaneshill at 16/1 and Roi Des Francs at 50/1.