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The Inside Track on the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle

The Neptune Novices’ Hurdle has been called a few different names in recent years but it has consistently produced top-class winners that have gone on to bigger and better things. Istabraq, Hardy Eustace, Danoli, Simonsig, First Lieutenant, Barton, French Holly, The New One. Basically just one long list of high-class hurdlers and chasers.

This year’s renewal looks no different. Leading the home team challenge we have RED SHERLOCK, a tough, unbeaten son of the brilliant mare Lady Cricket.

Apologies for taking a short trip down memory lane, and for the benefit of those a lot younger than I, Lady Cricket was a classy, courageous mare who was made for the JLT Novices’ Chase and the Ryanair Chase, over her favourite 2m4f trip, but unfortunately she pre-dated both races.

As a result she was forced to run in races that didn’t play to her strengths, including a Champion Hurdle and an RSA Chase, and in four attempts at the Festival she could only manage one runner-up spot in the Mildmay of Flete (now the Byrne Group Plate) and three unplaced efforts.

Her son seems to have inherited all her class and courage and he has an outstanding chance of succeeding where she failed by winning at the Festival. His defeat of the Willie Mullins-trained Rathvinden looks really good form and while Rathvinden looks likely to re-oppose. I see no reason why he will reverse the placings.

A bigger danger comes from Rathvinden’s stablemate, Faugheen. Faugheen, like Red Sherlock, is also unbeaten having won five from five and appears to have serious stable confidence behind him.

But his form just doesn’t justify his position as favourite.

He hasn’t been seen this year having last run when winning a Grade 3 at Limerick just after Christmas. If he was trained by anyone other than Mullins, he’d be at least twice his price. I think he’s terrible value and am happy to take him on.

A much better value alternative is the Dessie Hughes-trained Lieutenant Colonel. He has had just the four starts, all over the minimum trip of 2m, winning two and finishing second to two speedier types in Vautour and Wicklow Brave.

Those two horses are the second and third favourites for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the first day so there is nothing shabby about that form. Lieutenant Colonel will relish the step up in trip and could well be good enough to win this, but is a confident selection to place.

Best Bet: Red Sherlock

Alternative: Lieutenant Colonel