The Hennessy Gold Cup is one of the few handicap events during the jumps season that I have always enjoyed getting involved in and this weekend’s renewal is no different. It is largely down to the quality of the field that the Newbury feature tends to attract, and whilst it’s a handicap in name and weights that runners carry, you can rest assured that the majority of those lining up will boast Grade One form, a point reaffirmed by wins in the race from the likes of Bobs Worth, Denman (twice), Trabolgan and Strong Flow in the past decade, who all won at the top level. Two of the aforementioned even went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season as their Hennessy glory, so it merits respect as a betting proposition given the quality of the field.
The fact that seven of the last ten Hennessy winners carried 11 stone or more is also a strong indicator that class prevails in the race irrespective of weight and it is a horse towards the top of the handicap that takes my eye as I look to bag a bit a value ahead of Saturday’s race.
When Lord Windermere stayed on up the Cheltenham Hill back in March to land the RSA Chase by just shy of two lengths, it was easy for many to say that he wouldn’t have beaten Boston Bob who was leading when he fell at the last but the Jim Culloty trained seven-year-old had put in a bad jump three out before finding trouble in running coming around the turn and nothing should be taken away from his battling effort that day. He has not been seen on a racecourse since but the Irish Raider is open to a huge amount of improvement over three miles after that Cheltenham victory was his first start over the distance and given the manner of his win, he can be fully expected to relish every yard of the 3m 2f slog around Newbury.
It’s a natural comparison to draw upon the similarities between Lord Windermere and last year’s Hennessy winner, Bobs Worth, both of whom won the RSA chase before the Hennessy provided the starting point for their chasing careers out of novice company as connections look to exploit a potentially lenient handicap mark.
Bobs Worth’s RSA Chase win in 2012 was probably more impressive and a better piece of form than that of the 2013 equivalent but Lord Windermere appears to posses the same battling qualities that Bobs Worth showed to land the £86,000 first prize 12 months ago and that is a big positive on forecast soft ground at a galloping track like Newbury.
He’s been the subject of some early market support at the start of the week, being cut from 12/1 in to 10/1 with most bookmakers but I’ve taken a chance (each way) at the 12s still available with Ladbrokes (on Tuesday) that Lord Windermere can end Ireland’s 33 year wait for victory in this race.
The second pick is another youngster in the form of Invictus from the Alan King yard who will also be trying his hand out of novice company for the first time and heads to the the Berkshire track with a pretty big reputation but must overcome a 20 month absence! Last seen winning the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase over three miles at Ascot in February last year, Invictus has been sidelined since but the form of that race couldn’t have worked out any better with Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti both behind King’s runner that day. It is therefore no surprise to see the seven-year-old head the betting despite question marks over his fitness but with just 10-13 on his back and Robert Thornton already booked to take the ride, it looks like Newbury is the chosen destination for this long awaited run.
It’s a big ‘if’ but should Invictus return anywhere close to full fitness, he represents a cracking bet and one that I am willing to risk to find out at odds of 7/1. The word from Barbury Castle is that he’s in great order and schooled well over fences on Monday. From a punter’s perspective, it has to be thought that there would have been more attractive alternatives before now to hand him a reappearance run and as such, I’m putting faith in the fact that King must be confident that he’s capable of handling the nature of a big field handicap after such a long lay-off.
Since I think Invictus is worth a play to win the Hennessy, it would be foolish not to look at his price for Gold Cup, for which he’s currently 40/1. Given the relationship between Saturday’s race and Cheltenham’s main event in March, my delight should he win at Newbury would soon turn to frustration as I’d be kicking myself for passing up on those odds as a win would see that price cut in half at least and therefore it’s also speculative each way bet in the Gold Cup ante post market.
Hennessy Gold Cup Selections
Lord Windermere – each way @ 12/1
Invictus – win @ 7/1
Invictus to win the 2014 Gold Cup – each way @ 40/1