One of the highlights of the National Hunt season takes place on Saturday with the 58th running of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. The race has one of the richest reputations within the sport, horses such as Mandarin, Mill House, Arkle, Burrough Hill Lad, One Man, Suny Bay and Denman all have their name on the winners’ trophy.
Before the analysis, we did our usual video preview in which we covered the Hennessy Gold Cup in depth.
The main talking point surrounding this year’s renewal is the Willie Mullins trained Djakadam and his price which is currently as short as 4/1 is far too short. Whilst I like the horse, throwing a five year old straight into one of the most competitive handicap chases in the sport could potentially ruin him.
His chase debut at Leopardstown had some scrappy jumping but his ability saw him home. He returned in January in a Grade Two where he jumped much better when beating Bright New Dawn before being thrown in at the deep end in the JLT at the Festival, where he was travelling well when landing too steeply and unseating Paul Townend at the fourth last. If he is a Gold Cup horse then he should be winning this and whilst it’s understandable why connections have targeted the race, as the likelihood is he will never run off his mark of 142 again, his inexperience is a huge worry. The other big worries, although he has shaped like a stayer, stepping up from two and a half miles to three and a quarter miles looks substantial at this stage in his career and for an inexperienced horse, he could easily pull his chances away due to freshness.
SMAD PLACE comes into this with a huge chance for in form trainer Alan King who saddled a treble today at Newbury. He should be three out of four over fences but a misjudgement at the last on chasing debut at Huntingdon meant Robert Thornton departed unceremoniously. A win next time out at Exeter restored the confidence before going on to win at Newbury in desperate ground where he beat Sam Winner getting three pounds.
His final start as a novice came in the RSA Chase where he jumped superb and travelled ominously well but just found one that was slightly better on the day in O’Faolains Boy. Both of those pulled six lengths clear of Morning Assembly back in third and it was heart-breaking for connections as he did everything right through the race only to just go down by a neck. The form of the race has already looks pretty strong with the fifth Sam Winner defying top weight at the Open meeting and the sixth Carlingford Lough winning the Grade One novice at Punchestown where he beat Ballycasey.
This has been the plan since March. He goes really well fresh having proven this when winning a handicap hurdle off a big weight at Ascot in January 2012 in impressive style, he has a touch of class which is all important in a race like this and jumps really well. The booking of Denis O’Regan looks a big positive as well as his riding style would really suit the horse.
King’s other runner Midnight Prayer improved plenty last season with his season culminating with a win in the National Hunt Chase. His main early season target is the Welsh National but Tom Bellamy takes a useful five pounds off and he could easily run into a place.
Philip Hobbs has been in tremendous form recently and the apple of his eye Fingal Bay is his sole representative. The last time we saw him jumping fences at Exeter in December 2012, he ran out and crashed through the rail dramatically after looking a particularly awkward ride for Richard Johnson.
He returned after a fourteen month absence to carry top weight in a Pertemps Qualifier at Exeter where he beat stablemate If In Doubt before defying the handicapper in the Pertemps Final itself where he just denied Southfield Theatre and Grand National winner Pineau De Re in a driving finish. He then stepped up to Grade One company at Punchestown where he finished fifth behind Jetson who had chased him home in the Pertemps.
One thing of note, the handicapper has reassessed Fingal Bay and given him the same mark over fences that he has achieved over hurdles (mark was previously 143). With limited chasing experience and the memories of Exeter firmly in the mind, he is overlooked however there is no denying the horse is hugely talented.
For some time now, Many Clouds has been considered the ideal candidate for the Hennessy. Always looked upon as a horse that could reach the top by connections, this is the season for him to finally fulfil the potential he has shown in his career so far. His chasing career has been up and down with two wins at Carlisle and Wetherby, the latter performance being notable with the other two contenders Indian Castle and Pinerolo both going on to frank the form. He ran a big race in the Reynoldstown Novice Chase at Ascot when second to subsequent RSA winner O’Faolains Boy before taking his chance in the RSA itself. The form figure says he was brought down by the fall of Don Cossack but he had made a shuddering mistake at the same fence.
He was possibly over the top by Aintree but still ran creditably enough considering previous runs at the meeting. He returned at Carlisle in the Colin Parker Memorial where he beat Eduard and Gold Cup fancy Holywell although the latter was entitled to need the run. His profile for the race is definitely interesting and whilst he shapes like a stayer, evidence suggests the trip could be a worry as his best form has come at two and a half miles. Whilst he will travel through the race strongly, he could be vulnerable to stronger stayers.
Last year’s first and second return again in Triolo D’Alene and Rocky Creek. The former carries joint top weight and is ten pounds higher now in the handicap. On both his starts after in the Gold Cup and the Grand National, he ran as though his breathing was a big issue. He has had a breathing operation over the summer however needs much better ground to be seen at his best.
Rocky Creek can definitely reverse form with Triolo D’Alene after a stop start campaign with various issues from minor colic to ringworm which forced him out of the Gold Cup. He ran a fantastic race in the Grand National where he jumped and travelled brilliantly for Noel Fehily before getting tired between the last two fences. Also noteworthy is that he was the only horse carrying above eleven stone in the first ten which makes his effort all the more creditable, especially with his problems. The run in the JNWine Champion Chase behind Roads To Riches will have blown the cobwebs away and if being able to finish off his races better after a breathing operation, he is a serious contender.
Paul Nicholls other runner Unioniste has the huge positive of Noel Fehily booked to ride. After showing promise on his return last season in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and at Aintree when winning a Listed contest, he failed to progress after running too free in the Lexus Chase when beaten by Bobs Worth and could be considered a disappointment when third in the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster behind The Rainbow Hunter when looking a handicap snip. He also ended his season with a lamentable effort behind Duke Of Lucca at Aintree on Grand National day. Whilst he looks a strong stayer, he probably needs the outing and will come on for the run considerably.
The Druids Nephew has been a revitalised horse since joining Neil Mulholland in the summer after leading Andy Turnell. He won effortlessly at Huntingdon on his return to action before being given a questionable ride at Cheltenham when second to Sam Winner. Beforehand, connections were concerned about whether he’d see out the trip but he saw it out thoroughly and with a more forceful ride, he could have won. The worry here is whether the hard race two weeks ago has taken plenty out of him.
Another horse to be rekindled by a change in stable is What A Warrior. Having moved from Nigel Twiston Davies to the emerging talent that is Dan Skelton, he has improved twenty pounds with a win at Ludlow followed by an excellent all the way success at Ascot where he fended off Black Thunder. The softer ground here is a concern but he is well worth a go here and is one of the likely front runners.
Merry King is one that stays longer than the mother in law and on the whole, he was hugely consistent in staying handicap chases last season. He was fifth in this race a year ago before finishing sixth in the Welsh National. A third in the Peter Marsh at Haydock behind Wychwoods Brook followed before an effort worth forgiving in the Grand National Trial back at the same track where he was badly hampered and wasn’t able to get back into a crucial rhythm. The season ended with a fourth in the Scottish National.
His return to action this season started nicely enough when third behind What A Warrior in the United House Gold Cup at Ascot. He has the assistance of AP McCoy in the saddle but he can be a tricky customer as he likes to run in snatches and drop himself out before running on again. He would have place claims at best if putting his best foot forward.
Annacotty was a Grade One winner of the Feltham at Kempton on Boxing Day last season when fitted with blinkers for the first time when allowed to dictate matters at his own pace. His run at Cheltenham on Trials Day was a brave effort off top weight in a novice handicap chase behind Indian Castle. He then disappointed in the RSA when taken on for the lead by Corrin Wood and jumped with a lack of fluency. Throughout the contest, he kept leaving his back legs in fences and didn’t look happy from an early stage. His comeback run at Kempton was promising enough behind Fox Appeal and Theatre Guide but he had a tendency to wander about before his fences suggesting the reapplication of the blinkers will help.
The big worry with him is whether he can get his own way out in front but with What A Warrior another confirmed front runner, he could easily get flustered like he did on several occasions last season, most notably at Ascot where he made several mistakes on the way round. Whilst he won a Grade One last season, the Feltham and the Hennessy Gold Cup are two completely different races and with a bigger emphasis on jumping here, it’s likely he will struggle.
Ballynagour is more renowned for having form at shorter distances and for having his issues in the past. His last three starts though have seen him put together three consistent efforts including when absolutely laughing at a competitive handicap field in the Byrne Group Plate before two solid efforts when third twice in Grade One company behind Boston Bob at Aintree and Sizing Europe at Punchestown. The big question here is whether he will see out the trip and on the current ground, it doesn’t look likely.
Wychwoods Brook was an unfancied winner of the Peter Marsh before returning to Haydock in the Grand National Trial where he was out on his feet when falling three out. He had a nice pipe opener over hurdles at Worcester but he doesn’t strike as the type who would appreciate a race like this.
Monbeg Dude is a consistent staying handicap chaser who showed himself to be in excellent heart when second to Victors Serenade on his return at Chepstow over three miles. That distance is probably sharp enough for him and the softer ground here poses no concerns for this former Welsh National winner. Whilst he can be ridden patiently, it could pay for him to be ridden a bit handier than normal as rarely, winners of the Hennessy come from the back of the field. If he is ridden this way he definitely has a big chance of making the frame as his jumping has improved plenty.
Vino Griego and Via Sundown both represent Gary Moore. The former has looked a proper stayer and this big field test should suit him well after an eyecatching reappearance in the United House Gold Cup whilst the latter won a novice hurdle on desperate ground at Exeter recently but may find this a bit too hot to handle so soon in his career.
Le Reve has a reputation for being a scrappy jumper but put it all together when winning easily on his first start this season at Sandown but this represents another big step up. The joint top weight HOUBLON DES OBEAUXS looks overpriced on the pick of his form. He goes extremely well fresh, having proved this when running away with the United House Gold Cup last year. He was sixth in this a year ago when held up off the pace before winning the Silver Cup back at Ascot. The concern is that he is a better horse right handed however he does have useful form going left handed including when a close second to Rocky Creek at Warwick in a novice chase. He ran well enough in Grade One company last season and whilst carrying top weight here, he did the same in the Silver Cup. At 33/1, he looks overpriced and has a big each way chance.
Whilst Djakadam could be extremely well handicapped off 142, his price has absolutely no value and for his inexperience, you’d be a brave man to be taking 7/2. My idea of the winner is SMAD PLACE who is a second season novice, has a touch of class and jumps really well. The form of Alan King currently is red hot with four winners over the last couple of days and Denis O’Regan will suit the horse perfectly. I believe he is good enough to have a say in the Gold Cup so it would be disappointing if he wasn’t at least in the frame. Of those near the head of the market, Rocky Creek poses the main danger having had a much better preparation whilst Monbeg Dude and HOUBLON DES OBEAUXS at bigger prices could outrun their odds.
- Smad Place
- Rocky Creek
- Houblon Des Obeauxs
- Monbeg Dude