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Captain Cutter shaping up nicely for likely Neptune tilt

The Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle has, under its varying sobriquets over the years, showcased the burgeoning talents of Danoli, Istabraq, Hardy Eustace and First Lieutenant, to name just a few winners off an illustrious roll call.

Last year’s hero The New One currently vies for favouritism at 3/1 in the Champion Hurdle with Prestbury Park legend Hurricane Fly and the market for the 2014 Neptune renewal holds some tantalising prospects, but how do we separate the wheat from the chaff with just eight weeks to go?

First off, the 7/2 SP Nigel Twiston-Davies’ gelding returned last March is fairly indicative of recent prices about winners of this event, as none of the last six have come in at more than 7/1 and only one of the last nine victors have landed double-figure odds.

With that in mind, we can confidently put a line through all but the top 10 currently in the betting, up to Clondaw Court, Red Sherlock and Ballyalton at 16/1 each.

This race has been dominated by five and six-year-old’s since its inception in 1971, with all but five of the 41 winners falling within that narrow age bracket.

The bookies seem pretty alert to this trend, as seven of the top 10 in Coral’s Neptune market meet the optimum age demand, but seven-year-olds Royal Boy, Clondaw Court and Ballyalton are helpfully scratched out all the same.

Eight of the last 10 winners had won at least 50 per cent of all their starts over hurdles, but the seven horses we’re left with have been in such cracking form over the small obstacles this statistic isn’t much use.

However, Deputy Dan has only just managed that hit rate and with five of his leading competitors unbeaten over hurdles, we’re ruling out Oliver Sherwood’s inmate this year.

Willie Mullins’ 12/1 joint-third favourite Briar Hill won the Champion Bumper in 2013, but past spring runs at Cheltenham aren’t a good look in the Neptune, where eight of the last 10 victors have won on their Festival debut, so he’s easily swerved.

The Tullow Tank put his poor start to 2013 well and truly behind him with two Grade One wins in Ireland at the back end of the year, but as Thomas Reynolds pointed out on these pages recently, Phillip Fenton’s gelding’s preparations this season suggest he could go in the Supreme Novices instead, so he’s not one to rely on.

That leaves 4/1 favourite Faugheen, Apache Stronghold at 12/1, Captain Cutter at 14/1 and Red Sherlock at 16s.

There’s no room for the latter, as Pond House hasn’t produced a winner in this race since Martin Pipe’s Regal Ambition in 1990, while Mullins, Noel Meade and Nicky Henderson have all landed it in the last decade.

Mullins became the first trainer since Pipe senior to bag the 2m5f event in consecutive years between 2008-09, but three of the four winners since were based in England, including Henderson with Simonsig 22 months ago, so Captain Cutter gets the narrow nod at fine 14/1 odds for the 2014 renewal.