A lesser race may have diminished in stature for the absence of a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, but whilst Saturday's Hennessy Gold Cup may lack an appearance from Coneygree, it is bolstered by one of the most talented fields to line up in its history and a new star will be born at Newbury for what is one of the feature races of the entire National Hunt season.
Saphir Aims To Strike Off Top Weight
Coneygree's defection from the race saw the weights take a significant rise and it's Paul Nicholls's Saphir Du Rheu who will head the 17-strong field and the Ditcheat inmate has been installed as the 4/1 favourite with Betfred Bookmakers, as he looks to emulate his former stablemate Denman, who carried top weight to glory on two occasions.
Nicholls had already dipped Saphir Du Rheu's toe into the chasing waters last season, before aborting for a return to hurdles, and he showed his class when finishing second in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. However, his chasing hiatus was short-lived and he sparkled in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree, before kicking off this season with a facile win at Carlisle.
Obviously a real talent for the future, the six-year-old will however find this is a whole lot tougher, and with the rise in the weights he will have to carry a hefty burden around the 3m 1f 214y test, so that could just hinder his chances, and he could prove vulnerable to his rivals.
Rejuvenated Bobs Aims To Recapture Crown
Many had filed Bobs Worth into the "gone at the game" category, but Nicky Henderson's former Gold Cup hero propelled back into the limelight by downing his lauded stablemate Simonsig over hurdles, and the 2012 winner will be aiming to shine once again at Newbury, and is 6/1 with Paddy Power.
His comeback win at Aintree showed that the embers are certainly not dying out, but whilst on his best form he would trounce this field off his current mark, ten-year-olds have a pretty dire record on the race and with a raft of emerging youngsters taking him on then he could well find it tough back at the top to land his second Hennessy crown.
Place Your Money On Smad For Glory
Alan King's Smad Place warmed up for a crack at this year's race with a very impressive eight-length beating of another of the Hennessy runners Fingal Bay (14/1) at Aintree, and the manner in which he dispatched Philip Hobbs' charge suggested there's a lot more to come.
A decent fifth in last season's race behind Many Clouds, the eight-year-old grey struggled to land a blow at the highest Graded level last year, as he finished eighth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and fourth in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree.
However, a return to the handicap sphere could see him at his best and this persistent galloper is sure to be doing his best work late on, and he could outgun his rivals up the long Newbury run-in to take prize and the 6/1 with William Hill is the best bet in the race.
Best Of The Rest
As well as Fingal Bay, the aforesaid Hobbs will saddle If In Doubt, who is 8/1 with Ladbrokes, but he failed to build on his Sky Bet Chase win last season, and could find this a little tough on his comeback, whilst The Young Master (10/1) was put in his place by Saphir Du Rheu last time out and it's hard to see him turning that seven-length beating around.
Neil Mulholland's The Druids Nephew will strip fitter for his run over hurdles and the Cheltenham Festival winner is an eye-catching runner at 14/1, whilst Ned Stark is worth a second look in the lower echelons of the handicap, and is another around the 14/1 mark, but he will need to smarten up his jumping to be a player here.
Urano (33/1) is another that will have to carry a featherweight and he will take his chance for Willie Mullins, who will aim to bag a rare success for Ireland in this race, whilst you could do worse than have a little speculative each-way saver on The Giant Bolster, who could make the frame if finding his best form and he is 40/1 with some firms.