Long-time Cheltenham odds favourite Fingal Bay has drifted out to 6/1 to win the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle after doubts over his participation arose and Monksland could be the horse to take advantage should he not run.
Fingal Bay has remained unbeaten all season and was particularly impressive when repelling the challenge of the better-travelling Simonsig at Sandown in December.
His five successes made him a worthy favourite for the Neptune, but trainer Philip Hobbs now has reservations that the six-year-old will not make the Festival.
Fingal Bay has injured a hamstring and Hobbs wants to wait a week before finally deciding whether the horse will be fit enough to make it to Cheltenham.
In terms of the betting, Simonsig has moved to the head of the market at 3/1, with leading Irish challenger Boston Bob, who is likely to be the mount of Ruby Walsh, priced at 4/1.
However, it is another challenger from across the water who looks the big challenger and Monksland is currently available at 10/1 to win the Neptune.
His career to date resembles that of Fingal Bay in parts, in that he has enjoyed an unbeaten season of three victories in Ireland and looked particularly useful when landing a Grade Two cosily at Naas in January.
What is perhaps most notable is that using Lyreen Legend as a yardstick, Monksland beat this horse by further than Boston Bob, who is the shorter price in the Cheltenham odds.
Furthermore, Paul Carberry’s patient riding style seems to suit the horse and Monksland has performed on soft ground to date, with trainer Noel Meade believing that firmer ground will be even more greatly appreciated.
Meanwhile, Simonsig is yet to prove he finds much off the bridle and this has to be a concern given the nature of the Cheltenham hill, that has caught out many strong travelling horses in the past.