Antepost Angle: Neptune investment
Matt Brocklebank hopes he's unearthed a 33/1 gem in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in the latest Antepost Angle.
William Henry: Big chance back on good ground at the Festival
The unveiling of the entries for Cheltenham's three principal novice hurdle races – namely the Sky Bet Supreme, the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett – very rarely throws up anything close to front-page news, and that was the case again last Wednesday when 304 names were pencilled in for action six weeks before it all gets under way.
Many, understandably, are multiple entries, with some of the big names such as Death Duty, Neon Wolf and Melon all given a couple of options as expected.
But one novice's Festival target appeared to become much clearer last week and his chances of success seem to have gone under the radar.
WILLIAM HENRY has always been considered a top prospect by Nicky Henderson – "I like to run a good one in this race and this one is a smart prospect," the trainer commented after the horse won his second bumper under a penalty at Ayr in April 2015.
We ought not to be getting too carried away with the fact that Henderson sent Sprinter Sacre up to Scotland to win the same event in his youth, with far less-heralded stablemates River Maigue and Fourth Estate also successful for Seven Barrows in that particular bumper in recent seasons, but it's obviously seen as a good stepping-stone for some of his nicer good-ground operators.
This year has been one of steady progression for William Henry, building on his hurdling debut second behind Pingshou at Cheltenham to score emphatically at Newbury, both races being run over a fraction further than the bare two miles. Neither race has worked out brilliantly in terms of the bare form, Cheltenham eighth Brio Conti the only subsequent scorer at the time of writing, but the seven-year-old is obviously on a learning curve and Newbury was another significant pointer towards the regard in which he must be held.
The Betfred 'Supports Jack Berry House' Introductory Hurdle on New Year's Eve may not be considered the best Cheltenham trial in this category, but it's another race Henderson dearly loves to win and William Henry made it 10-11 for the local handler in pretty effortless fashion.
The one that got away from Henderson in the last 11 years saw his short-priced favourite Kid Cassidy finish third to Rock On Ruby, the subsequent winner of the Neptune, which happens to be the only race in which William Henry has been engaged at the Festival as things stand.
That looks an excellent decision based on his latest showing back at Prestbury Park last weekend, where he once again had to settle for second but, like so many of the vanquished on the day, lost little in defeat on ground that was clearly getting extremely demanding as the afternoon wore on.
Everything about that effort screamed Neptune. Stepped up to two and a half miles for the first time in his career in the Grade Two contest, he travelled menacingly well throughout for Davy Russell and jumped perfectly adequately too, especially given the conditions were much softer than he cares for, before having to concede victory to the strong-staying, Albert Bartlett-bound Wholestone.
We've been here before with this race, too, having been won by Festival heroes Bobs Worth and At Fishers Cross, who both doubled up by taking the three-mile Albert Bartlett.
Last year's winner Yanworth went close in the Neptune, but the record of the beaten horses also catches the eye, especially in relation to the big one over the intermediate distance – exact trip of the Neptune is two miles, five furlongs and 26 yards.
Second behind Bobs Worth in 2011 we find the aforementioned Rock On Ruby; runner-up to At Fishers Cross was fellow subsequent Neptune winner The New One (Coneygree third, Whisper fourth); the 2014 second Rathvinden was subsequently third in the Neptune, while the top-class Thistlecrack and Native River (fell) were unsuccessful in this event a couple of seasons ago.
Following Saturday's race, in which three lengths split the first two with a further five back to the third, Wholestone was made 7/1 second-favourite for his big-race target, with William Henry freely available at 33/1 across the board, bar the firms to have already triggered their non-runner, no bet concession on the race.
The 20/1 on offer with the promise of money back if he doesn't run is not dismissed out of hand, the principal reason being that while the horse currently possesses just the sole entry to his name, with three hurdle outings under his belt and a mark of 139, his options in the handicaps, providing two and a half miles on spring ground are considered his optimum conditions, are two-fold.
He's fractionally below the 140 ceiling of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle and just about high enough to get into the Coral Cup (identical mark to last year's bottom-weight).
The latter is the big fear if taking the risk on his Neptune participation at longer odds of 33/1, as I'm willing to do. Henderson has won the race twice since 2010, the latter of which came via Whisper in the same Dai Walters silks, while the owner's retained rider Russell has become something of a Coral Cup expert, taking top spot on three occasions recently.
However, the over-riding feeling is that connections must have been highly encouraged by his weekend performance, in a recognised trial with a rich history of producing Festival winners, after they had clearly stated beforehand that they were keen to find out just how high he can go this year.
Of Henderson's 10 Neptune entries in total, William Henry is right up there with the best on the figures, coming in just 1lb below Cultivator and likely Supreme candidate Consul De Thaix (both 140), and it looks worth a punt that his thirst for Grade One glory proves too strong when it comes to finalising plans for this upwardly-mobile individual.
Antepost Angle Cheltenham 2017
Posted at 1037 GMT on 06/02/17