It is fairly obvious to anyone with half an idea about horse racing that this year’s Hennessy Gold Cup is a fascinating and high quality renewal. It looks like there is going to be a star-studded line up going to post on Saturday afternoon, with the headline act sure to be Bobs Worth should Nicky Henderson give him the ‘green light’ on Tuesday afternoon.
Last year’s RSA Chase hero makes his seasonal return off a mark of 160, although is so far untested on ground softer than ‘Good to Soft’ so it remains to be seen if he can handle conditions if they worsen throughout the week – he has already had a breathing operation last season.
Alongside Bobs Worth is the current top-weight and ‘character’ that is Tidal Bay who comes into this off the back of an impressive victory in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on his seasonal return. I’ve always had Tidal Bay down though as the sort of guy you’d see at school who would lure kids into a false sense of security that he was their friend before coaxing them towards the nearest alleyway and taking their lunch money – he has done that to me a few times (Tidal Bay that is)!
Roberto Goldback and The Package come into the race off the back of impressive victories last time, and First Lieutenant ran a very brave race to fill second to Kauto Stone when the pair met in Ireland a month ago.
A quick check of the weather suggests Newbury shouldn’t be getting too much rain during the week, so the ground should be fairly similar to what is currently being described ‘Soft’ and generally Newbury does drain fairly well for a jumps track so we shouldn’t be dealing with bottomless conditions come raceday.
TIDAL BAY – Has recently put together the first back-to-back success since his novice chasing campaign in 2008 when recently landing the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on his seasonal return. He rounded off his previous campaign with a rousing victory when absolutely slamming the field in the Bet365 Gold Cup in soft ground off a mark of 154. Is now up to 166 and I think that’s too much of an ask for this old boy against these rivals. He has failed to beat both Midnight Chase and Neptune Collonges off this mark both off level weights and in receipt of weight and I couldn’t see either of those horses winning a Hennessy off a mark of 166, so even though Ruby Walsh has already been declared he wouldn’t be for me.
ROBERTO GOLDBACK – Put in a quality return to action on debut for Nicky Henderson when slamming the field by nine lengths at Ascot last time (Duke Of Lucca in-behind), and in the process removed all thoughts that he was just a small-field specialist when beating home 13 rivals. He was kept wide throughout and kicked on turning for home to score a strong success, but has been handed a 12lb raise by the official handicapper and competes here off a mark of 162. It looks a difficult task for the gelded son of Bob Back who despite looking impressive last time will have to give away weight to better horses here, and it would be hard to imagine him being good enough to do that in all honesty.
BOBS WORTH – Arguably the horse the race pretty much revolves around for me, and the definite class angle. He returns to action off a mark of 160 which looks fairly lenient given the impression he made when winning a strongly contested RSA Chase last season. He is untested on ground this soft though so that could be a concern, but he is bred to handle conditions and he is also unbeaten in five attempts going left-handed and has won at Newbury previous. Whatever way you look at his form it holds up to the closest inspection and he is a worthy favourite.
FIRST LIEUTENANT – A horse I’ve been waiting to go back up in distance after ending last season over two miles and returning over two and a half this campaign. A solid run when second to Kauto Stone in a Grade 1 when last seen a month ago has seen him raised 4lb in the weights to a mark of 159. Was beaten 2.5L by Bobs Worth off level weights at Cheltenham so I can’t see 1lb doing much to reverse the form in truth but he is a horse I like a lot, and one worthy of respect in this race.
JUNIOR – Is a better horse on quicker ground and later in the season when able to get such conditions. He has struggled really since winning at Cheltenham off 134 two seasons ago, and a brief solid run when second to Ikorodu Road at Doncaster has been backed up with two failed attempts to complete and has to be off the list of contenders for me.
PLANET OF SOUND – Isn’t getting any younger and is the horse I backed in this race last season when finding Carruthers too good in the closing third of the race. He usually goes fairly well fresh so that lacklustre effort at Wetherby has to come of somewhat of a concern. He is 6lb lower in the weight this time round though, and although he’ll probably be able to reverse form with Carruthers it is hard to see him being good enough to win this at his age, and is best passed over in my opinion.
HOLD ON JULIO – Is on many people’s shortlists for this race this season, and made a pleasing return to action when third at Cheltenham in October. Lightly raced and scope for further improvement he wouldn’t be out of it here off a mark of 148 and is certainly one of the more likely types for a yard in decent form.
LION NA BEARNAI – This one’s improvement came from seemingly out of nowhere when landing a Grade 2 Novice Chase off a mark of 108 at 50-1, but he duly followed that success up with a win in a valuable handicap chase off 27lb higher on his next start. He has now been handed a further 12lb rise for that success and my punting history has taught me to steer clear of these types, and it’d be hard to imagine this one defying a further rise in the weights against this calibre of opposition.
CARRUTHERS – Has looked seriously out of sorts since winning this race 12 months ago, and is able to return here off a 2lb lower mark than he won off last season. His form hasn’t been anything to write home about this season and although he goes well around Newbury I’d be very surprised if this one won again.
TATENEN – Trainer Richard Rowe apparently ‘can’t wait’ for the Hennessy with his charge but from what I’ve read in the form book his entrant doesn’t really have the class to be winning such a contest from his rating. A better horse around Ascot he will need somewhat of a miracle to win this race off a mark of 147, and isn’t one I can entertain for any great length of time.
THE PACKAGE – Returned as good as ever to take out the Badger Ales Trophy around Wincanton on seasonal return, and did so with a rather authorative display. The ground looks like being ideal for the David Pipe trained gelding but with just two weeks between the Hennessy and his previous race, I can see this race coming a little too soon for the son of Kayf Tara, who had quite a hard race last time.
TEAFORTHREE – A stoutly bred son of Oscar, Teaforthree always requires a run or two to come right after a layoff so I wouldn’t be too concerned by a below-par showing at Cheltenham on seasonal return in October. He previously ran out a good solid winner of a competitive National Hunt Chase over four miles at the Cheltenham Festival in March beating Harry The Viking by 2 lengths and he could well be in the shakeup here off this sort of rating after a recent run.
FRUITY O’ROONEY – Has looked the type to do well in this race based on what I’ve seen of him so far. Solid placed efforts off 140 at both Doncaster and Cheltenham before finishing fifth off this mark in the Scottish National. A comeback over hurdles should have put him right for this contest, but he wouldn’t want the ground too soft despite winning on heavy over hurdles, majority of his better chase runs have came on decent ground – has his chances at these weights.
SAINT ARE – A very interesting contender for this staying handicap chase and one which could be well handicapped in this sort of grade. He has had a lot of his racing at Cheltenham and it is clear to see from his form figures that he hates the place (754U0) whereas away from Cheltenham his form improves to (2F310221) and has shown a liking to the flatter left handed tracks of both Aintree and Newbury. He is certainly bred to relish the stamina test he will face at the weekend, and the Hennessy is usually run at a searching pace throughout which will play to this horses strengths. Any juice in the ground will be a bonus and he has shown a tendency to go well fresh and finished second on his comeback last year beaten 4.5L over an inadequate trip to Champion Court (now rated 155) so you’d think there could be room for manoeuvre off his rating of 145.
DUKE OF LUCCA – Whilst I find it hard to imagine this horse winning the Hennessy I found it hard to remove him from my final shortlist. A good second to Roberto Goldback at Ascot last time you’d have to think he might have got a little closer had he not been crossed by Nataani and his slow jump at the last. A rating of 144 certainly looks workable and a return to a left-handed track ought to be an extra positive for ‘The Duke’ and I can see him going fairly close in this contest at a very decent price.
DIAMOND HARRY – Has failed to complete on his last three starts and this former top-class chasing prospect appears to have seen better days. Has been coming down in the weights and did win this race in 2010 for Nick Williams off 13lb higher but he looks on the downgrade these days, and couldn’t entertain this one sadly.
MAGNANIMITY – A tricky horse to assess with a very in-and-out profile but would have to be respected if Dessie Hughes decides to make the trip across the pond. From what I have seen he wouldn’t be well handicapped off a mark of 143 so he has questions to answer and wouldn’t be one I’d be rushing to back.
HARRY THE VIKING – Beaten by Teaforthree in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and has since failed to complete in two starts after that effort. Has questions to answer and a mark of 142 looks stiff enough really to me given I think Teaforthree held a definite advantage at Cheltenham and is only 4lb higher in the weights than Paul Nicholls’ gelding.
IKORODU ROAD – Came to hand last season over fences winning a couple of decent staying handicaps and going up 10lb in the weights in the process but I have a feeling this one’s improvement may have reached a plateau, and is coming up against some decent rivals here and hard to see him reaching the frame.
FRISCO DEPOT – On a line through their run at Punchestown this one has the beating of Magnanimity and has the advantage of a further 5lb coming off his back thanks to Sam Whaley-Cohen’s allowance. His jockey has his knockers for his rides aboard Long Run but he isn’t the worst jockey I’ve seen and didn’t do much wrong at Haydock last weekend IMO. Was still travelling fairly well at Ascot when coming to grief last time behind Roberto Goldback but I don’t think he’d of won and I can’t see him being good enough to win here either.
SOLL – Has switched from Willie Mullins to Jo Hughes and is very much the unexposed aspect to this race. Is certainly bred for the job and was unlucky when brought-down at the Cheltenham Festival when last seen. Could be a stone well in off his rating of 139 but I’d of much preferred the horse to still be with Willie Mullins and it’s hard to know what the plans are for this one, so I’m leaving this as a watching brief for now until I’ve seen for myself what they plan to do with this horse.
ALFIE SPINNER – Third behind Roberto Goldback and Duke Of Lucca at Ascot last time and he wasn’t closing the gap at any real pace when the line came, so it would be hard to imagine this gelded son of Alflora getting into the frame in this big handicap. Has dropped 2lb in the weights for that run but that shouldn’t be enough to feature here and is another I’m leaving alone.
All in all this is a fairly tough race to assess as one would come to expect given its history, and chances are we won’t be left amazed and open mouthed like we were when Denman retained his Hennessy off top weight back in 2009. However it looks a class race on paper and provided the main protagonists line up at the weekend we should be in for a cracking renewal.
On form Bobs Worth could be absolutely thrown in off a mark of 160, and you’d have to think there will be more to come from him this season in higher grade chases. The only problem I have is you aren’t going to get rich at the 7/2 on offer, and although he is the most likely winner for me I usually try to look elsewhere for a value alternative.
First Lieutenant is another I expect a good run from (if he lines up), and Mouse Morris will be making a decision during the week on his participation but a repeat of his run when second to Kauto Stone last time out would put him bang into contention and looks a better priced alternative to Bobs Worth at around 14/1.
However the two which catch my eye are Duke Of Lucca who looks tailor-made for this sort of test, has been given a pipe opener last time at Ascot and a return to a left handed galloping track should coax out further improvement from this likeable sort, and SAINT ARE. The latter of which I find very interesting off this mark of 145, is bred for the distance and is fairly unexposed over this trip if you forget his races around Cheltenham where he clearly doesn’t act – I think he is a cracking price to be honest and whilst he might necessarily come up short against Bobs Worth and perhaps First Lieutenant he is sure to run his race.
[notification_box]1.5pts each-way Saint Are @ 14-1 with Betfred, Boylesports, SportingBet
0.5pts each-way Duke Of Lucca @ 20-1 with Bet365, Betfred, BetVictor, PaddyPower
Both horses 1/4 odds 1-2-3-4 [/notification_box]
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