Parlour Games is fancied to hold off a strong Irish challenge in Wednesday's opener
Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, 2m5f, Old Course (due off 1.30pm)
Following his 2m2f Deloitte Hurdle win last month, Nichols Canyon had been clear favourite and he still is across the board, although that position is coming under threat from all sides. Parlour Games, Outlander and Windsor Park are all staking claims to go off as market leader on the day and this race looks a real puzzle for punters. The reasons for siding with Nichols Canyon remain strong, though, as that Leopardstown race has been a strong pointer to the Neptune. Of the last 15 winners, five went on to win at the festival, including Champagne Fever (Supreme) and Vautour 12 months ago. That said, he has a further 3f to travel and given he can race exuberantly – Ruby Walsh has said he doesn’t want to make the running – you just have to question whether this former flat horse will see out the trip as well as some of his rivals. Top price: 4/1 Ladbrokes (6/1 from midday Monday for a limited time).
Who else is fancied?
Nichols Canyon may not even be Willie Mullins best chance as his apparent second-string Outlander has already proved himself over 2m4f, and was impressive in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown in January. He had Windsor Park behind in fourth that day and that horse was beaten three and a half lengths by Nichols Canyon in the Deloitte, suggesting he’s up against it here. However, it was noticeable how well he was eating into the winner’s lead at the line, suggesting he will relish the step up in trip, and being a son of Galileo he should improve an awful lot for better ground. After he won by miles at Galway last season, Robbie McNamara described him as being as good as the stable’s Forgotten Rules – a major contender for this year’s Gold Cup – and if that’s the case he must have a major chance of reversing that form.
Parlour Games has long looked the chief British hope, even though he had just a neck to spare over Vyta Du Roc at Newbury last time. He’s perhaps better judged on his win at Cheltenham in December from Blaklion, who is no mug, and his trainer John Ferguson is very sweet on his chances. A strong traveller with a turn of foot, expect him to be delivered late.
Any decent outsiders?
This race has been kind to punters and it might not pay to look beyond those already mentioned. Three of the last ten favourites have obliged (Mikael D’Haguenet 2009, Simonsig 2012 and Faugheen last year) and in that period only one winner has gone off bigger than 17/2. That said, Ordo Ab Chao is held in high regard by Alan King and, having finished a distant fourth of five to Vyta Du Roc in Sandown’s Grade Winter Hurdle in December, he resumed his progress with a battling win over Albert Bartlett fancy Value At Risk on Trials Day here. A stayer in the making, he will be finishing better than most, but wouldn’t want it any quicker than good to soft.
Trainer quote: “Parlour Games has done nothing wrong this season. Cheltenham does not suit everyone, but the fact that he has won there suggests he handles it fine. He has a leading chance and hopefully the bookmakers aren’t wrong. The most important thing now is that I have him spot on and I am confident I can do that.” – John Ferguson on Parlour Games.
Best bookie offer
The offers will be coming thick and fast but one that catches the eye for now is Sky Bet’s money back (as a free bet, up to £25) if your horse finishes 2nd or 3rd in the Neptune.
It was tough to choose between the front four – from where the winner will surely come from – but the drying ground and some bullish comments from his trainer have swung the balance in favour of PARLOUR GAMES, with Windsor Park feared most.
Selection – Parlour Games @ 11/2 Sky Bet (money back if 2nd or 3rd)