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2013 Neptune Novices' Hurdle race guide and tips – Taquin can topple favourite

The Neptune Novices' Hurdle is run over the intermediate trip of 2m5f for staying novice hurdlers and is run on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival (due off 2.05pm).

What are the key trends?
It pays to be tried and trusted at a high level with Graded race experience a must. Six of the last 10 winners ticked that particular box, while three of the exceptions were placed in Graded company. That was the weakness in the profiles of So Young and Rite Of Passage, two of the last three beaten favourites, and this is no race for an unexposed but highly talented novice to bridge the gap from minor company. Five or six is the ideal age with all of the last 10 winners coming from that age group. Interestingly, eight of those winners had begun their career in either bumpers or Irish point-to-points, while only two market leaders have obliged in that time.

Who's favourite?
The ex-French Pont Alexandre made a big impression when winning a Navan Grade 1 on his debut for the Willie Mullins yard. That was the same race stablemate Mikael D'Haguenet won before coming on to win this in 2009, and he's since cruised home in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown, so it's easy to understand why the exciting five-year-old is such a short price, with no bigger than 5/2 on offer at the time of writing. Some will crab the fact his form is on very soft ground, but he doesn't appear to be devoid of speed and better ground promises to suit.

Which horses are his main challengers?
The New One was a smart bumper performer last season and has taken to hurdles like a duck to water, winning three from four and pulverising the opposition in a Grade 2 at Warwick two starts back. The form of that race may be suspect and the race he won at Cheltenham in October has not really worked out either, but his last time effort when second to At Fishers Cross over 2m41/2f on the Old Course reads much better - might have won had his rider not got to the front too soon. He heads the British challenge along with Taquin Du Seuil, whose only defeat in four hurdle starts came over an inadequate 2m at Ascot in November when trying to concede 5lb to My Tent Or Yours. Since then he's won a Grade 2 at Sandown and followed up in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle over this trip, both on heavy ground. 

Any outsiders worth considering?
With the front three in the market holding strong credentials, it might not pay to look too far down the betting list for the winner. That said, Puffin Billy had an excuse for his defeat behind Melodic Rendezvous at Exeter last time as he was subsequently reported to be lame (recovered now). He went into that race unbeaten in four starts and looked potentially top notch when winning a Grade 2 at Ascot. His trainer Oliver Sherwood describes him as the best he's trained since top-class hurdler Large Action, who was placed twice in the Champion Hurdle. Back-to-back Newbury winner Chatterbox, a stablemate of My Tent Or Yours, could be the “dark horse” if turning up with the step up to 2m5f expected to suit.
 
What's the verdict?
It's impossible to ignore the claims of Pont Alexandre who is considered to be one of the “bankers” of the week for the Irish. However, both of his wins have come on very soft ground and in slow times, while it's hard to evaluate the form with so few of his victims having not run since. He may well win but at just 5/2 he could be worth taking on with TAQUIN DU SEUIL. Challow winners don't have a great record in this race, admittedly, but the six-year-old looks an above average winner of that Newbury contest, and is clearly held in high regard at home with O'Neill describing him as the “the best novice I've got”. Like the favourite, his best form has come with plenty of cut but it's not essential for him.


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2013 Neptune Novices' Hurdle race guide and tips – Taquin can topple favourite

The Neptune Novices' Hurdle is run over the intermediate trip of 2m5f for staying novice hurdlers and is run on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival (due off 2.05pm).

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