Jumpsracing.co.uk, writer, Maddy P (@mp_horseracing), has come up trumps with her preview of Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup and a convincing case for who she thinks will land the £113,900 first prize. Read on to find out who will be carrying the young and talented writer's cash...
The Hennessy Gold Cup is one of the most historic steeplechases in the National Hunt racing calendar! It never fails to whet the appetite for the season ahead and has often proved the best harbinger for almighty equine talent. This year is no exception. Here I will attempt to make sense of one of the most hectic handicaps of the year, I will view the main protagonists individually and attempt to find the winner, or at very least, a touch of value along the way.
NATIVE RIVER – 11/2
Native River has been the ante-post favourite for this race since his highly encouraging trial in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby, and it is not difficult to understand why. He is a Grade 1 winner, courtesy of a demolition job at Aintree where Richard Johnson capitalised on his strengths as a dour stayer, and has the form in the book to suggest he could have the improvement required to win a race of this calibre. It’s worth remembering he beat UN TEMPS POUR TOUT decisively at this meeting last year, giving him 7lb, and also claimed HENRI PARRI MORGAN and BLAKLION, who may have been feeling the effects of a demanding season, at Aintree. Colin Tizzard is enjoying a miraculous spell at the moment, and Native River could provide him with another momentous victory. I was lucky enough to watch the chestnut parade at Tizzard’s open day at the end of August, and although that was a long time ago, it was obvious to see he was on fantastic terms with himself and is clearly still thriving. He will need to find improvement though, and my worry is if he makes a mistake at a crucial stage he won’t have the speed to recover. Usually the race is run at a feverish tempo and with SMAD PLACE set to rock and roll, Native River could feel the effects, as he often gets outpaced. He does have plenty in his favour, though, and is set for a big run, but at 11/2 I would be looking elsewhere for a bet.
VYTA DU ROC – 8/1
Vyta Du Roc is a horse that has always flown a little under the radar. He has shown plenty of ability since he was a young horse and looks one that has more to offer in staying chases. Last year he beat the subsequent National Hunt Chase winner Minella Rocco at Ascot. NATIVE RIVER was behind him at the Festival, but Jonjo O’Neill’s inmate clearly wasn’t fully tuned up at Ascot, and therefore it is difficult to fully correlate that form. Nicky Henderson’s charge then bumped into BLAKLION in the RSA Chase, over a trip which I’d consider short of his optimum, and was beaten 10 ½ lengths. He then went to Ayr for the Scottish Grand National and ran an encouraging race in fifth, 9 ¾ lengths adrift of the winner VICENTE. I think the marathon trip helped him and in hindsight he would have probably preferred slightly slower ground, so the run is one to note. Upon his return to action this season he met UN TEMPS POUR TOUT at Aintree, and ran a very solid trial for this in third. Vyta Du Roc is potentially one of the best handicapped horses in the race off 143, but ultimately he is yet to prove he really has what it takes to actually win a race like this. I think he’ll be involved but at 8/1 it is worth looking elsewhere.
UN TEMPS POUR TOUT – 9/1
Of those at the head of the market, Un Temps Pour Tout, is the one for me. It is often forgotten how classy he was as a hurdler, winning the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil, beating the likes of Thousand Stars, Zarkandar, Ballynagour and Hurricane Fly! I won’t lie; I wasn’t convinced by him when he first embarked on his chasing career. It did take him a while to warm up, as VICENTE beat him on his chasing bow where he received 8lb at Cheltenham, and NATIVE RIVER again put him in his place at the Hennessy meeting last year, also giving him 7lb. He ran poorly behind Kings Odyssey next time, but in hindsight it meant he didn’t shoot up the handicap before the Festival, not that it would have mattered much anyway. The Ultima Chase at Cheltenham has a star-studded roll of honour and for Un Temps Pour Tout, it was a cakewalk. He beat HOLYWELL by an emphatic 7 lengths, who we know excels during the springtime festivals, and it easily could have been more. In third was The Young Master, who on his next start won an ultra-competitive renewal of the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown. Morning Assembly was in fourth, and went on to run a massive race in the Grand National and Kruzhlihnin finished fifth, and even he showed he wasn’t devoid of ability when winning the Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock last weekend. Native River did beat Un Temps Pour Tout at Aintree, but he was lame on that occasion and I’d be surprised if he isn’t 3lb better than him on Saturday. Un Temps Pour Tout showcased his speed when winning on return at Aintree, beating VYTA DU ROC in the process, and I think I am drawn towards this horse because he has the required class that some of the others are lacking. He appears to be peaking now, whereas I think some of the other second season novices may have almost reached their limit. It is important to note the blinkers and the tongue tie will be reapplied on Saturday, which will only serve to sharpen his concentration, and at 9/1 he is a major contender.
SMAD PLACE – 10/1
The only horse to have won consecutive Hennessy Gold Cups was the mighty Arkle, and it is the winner 12 months ago, SMad Place, who will be looking to emulate one of racing’s all time greats! It is obvious Smad Place isn’t in that league and you could argue this year’s renewal is much stronger than when he beat THEATRE GUIDE and First Lieutenant, last year. SAPHIR DU RHEU and HOUBLON DES OBEAUX were further back in the field and it is hard to see them figuring this year in what looks a stronger race, although the former did show some of his old sparkle at Ascot on return and is not without a chance carrying 10lb less this time around. Alan King has made no bones about how Smad Place needs a prep run, and he ran a lovely race at Aintree in the Old Roan Chase, jumping boldly off top weight and staying on over a trip which was much shorter than ideal. He is carrying 8lb more than last year, but you could argue he would have still won carry 8 stone more. Class has a history of getting horses through in this race, and he has been trained specifically with this in mind for a long time. It would also be dangerous to forget his demolition job of the Cotswold Chase last year either, where he put Grand National winner Many Clouds to the sword with a remarkable performance. Smad Place breaks the hearts of his rivals, and if he is on song, I’m not sure many will be able to go with him. It will be tough, but the bottom line is if Wayne Hutchinson rides him aggressively and gets him into that deadly rhythm, he will not be beaten very far.
HENRI PARRI MORGAN – 10/1
Henry Parri Morgan has a different profile to the majority of the second season chasers in this. He is familiar with handicap company, as he climbed his way through the ranks last year, improving 20lb from September to April. His experience in the hustle and bustle of larger fields is sure to stand him in good stead, and he did show he was capable of cutting it at the highest level when second behind NATIVE RIVER at Aintree. BLAKLION was understandably tired in third and UN TEMPS POUR TOUT finished lame, with Cheltenham Festival winner Ballyalton in fifth. Interestingly, he was well backed before his next start in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown, which shows connections consider him to be up to this grade. He was very much in the thick of it when unseating Sean Bowen at the 19th, suggesting he would have been involved in the closing stages. He comes into this with a solid chance off a mark of 150, but my only concern would be if he is fully tuned up for this, as like a few of these, he may have the rest of the season in mind, too. Nevertheless, he is one to watch.
BLAKLION – 8/1
The sight of Blaklion on a racecourse is enough to make any racing fanatic smile. There can’t be many tougher, more admirable horses in training and his faultless attitude is sure to serve him well in a race of this nature. He has received more support in the market in recent days and deservedly so, as he was in danger of being the forgotten horse, a role which he knows well. Blaklion had an excellent season last year, including when winning the Towton Novices Chase in arduous conditions, beating NATIVE RIVER. His impeccable jumping and never say die temperament saw him win the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, but this form is not the easiest to assess. More Of That broke a blood vessel in third and No More Heroes finished lame and subsequently had to be put down in fourth. VYTA DU ROC plugged on in behind, along with Seeyouatmidnight who wouldn’t have favoured the fast ground. Le Mercurey finished last and went on to pick up a relatively poor Grade 2 at Ayr next time out. Blaklion’s final run of the season at Aintree was probably one trip to the well too many, and this time Native River took his scalp. His seasonal reappearance in the Charlie Hall Chase was good, as he jumped and travelled well for a long way, but did end up 8 lengths behind Irish Cavalier. This form has also been turned upside down since, by Cue Card at Haydock. Ultimately, Blaklion has less to prove than the others, but also has less potential to improve. Many consider him a lively outsider for the Gold Cup in March, in order to reward their confidence; he’d need a career best to win this!
THEATRE GUIDE – 20/1
If we want to know who wins the Hennessy, we should probably ask Theatre Guide, as he knows the race better than any of us by now. Colin Tizzard’s stalwart finished third to TRIOLO D’ALENE in 2013, and second to SMAD PLACE, last year. He has had a breathing op during the summer, and was another who looked in good shape when I saw him in August. He is a very tall, large-framed horse, and it is easy to see why he is at home in races like this. He carried 11-6 in what was probably a poorer race last year, but is only due to carry 10-9 on Saturday. For a horse who can struggle in the jumping department, he did well to win the Betbright Chase around Kempton in February. The form of that race doesn’t look anything special though, and although connections were rightfully thrilled with his comeback at Wetherby, I would worry he is a little exposed and he looks vulnerable this time around. That said, if the breathing op and the lighter version of Paddy Brennan can cheer him up, he could run well.
Vicente has been called a lot of names in the past, but labelling him 25/1 for this is something I disagree with. Admittedly, he does come with a rather large warning: He can be a dodgy jumper, and he is a tricky ride, but he overcame all of that to win the Scottish Grand National last year. Our old friend THEATRE GUIDE has proved you can somehow take half of Newbury’s fences with you and still run well in this race, and Vicente cannot be without a chance. His ability is there for all to see, as he proved when beating UN TEMPS POUR TOUT at Cheltenham last year, giving him 8lbs in the process. Admittedly he was behind NATIVE RIVER in the National Hunt Chase at the Festival, but he did get hampered by the loose horse and he proved his jumping could hold out in a large, competitive field. He gave Paul Nicholls an unforgettable day in the Scottish Grand National, where Sam Twiston-Davies rode him to perfection and gave Team Dicheat the upper hand in the Trainers Championship. He carried just the 1lb more than VYTA DU ROC that day and beat him fair and square by upwards of 9 lengths. He is carrying 8lb more than Nicky Henderson’s grey on Saturday, but if he is in the mood I wouldn’t say that is beyond him. Paul Nicholls has outlined he is a big price for a horse that runs well fresh and loves a competitive race on a flat track, and I am inclined to agree. He could turn up at Aintree next week, but Newbury aren’t forecast much rain which will also suit. Only half of the last ten winners of the Hennessy had a prep run beforehand, and Nicholls has proved he can prepare them for this race without a prep run, as he proved on two occasions with ‘The Tank’ Denman.
It is argued the racing calendar is too Cheltenham-centric, but for most racing fans, the Hennessy Gold Cup has its own reserved sign in their hearts. This Saturday’s card is endlessly compelling, and the feature race is guaranteed to live up to its billing. I think UN TEMPS POUR TOUT has everything in his favour to run the race of his life, and his confirmed class makes him more appealing than others at the head of the market. I can’t fathom the price of VICENTE, presuming he turns up, but it may be best to have a few drinks before you watch him tackle Newbury’s challenging circuit. And finally, a very small mention goes to CAROLE’S DESTRIER who enjoyed a racecourse gallop at the track a few days ago, and could plug on for a place off a featherweight.