At the time of writing both tracks have their going described as ‘heavy’ so things really are in the balance if they get any more severe downpours over the next few days – fingers crossed!
Unfortunately both contests eluded me as a rider, but I came close a few times in the Hennessy, most notably in 1989 onboard Brown Windsor when collared on the line by the fast-finishing Ghofar.
Being a handicap then the Hennessy has always been a chance for some of the lesser lights to pit their wits against the classer staying types, and although seven horses have gone onto land the Cheltenham Gold Cup that same season, only Denman in 2007-08 has managed it recently.
So can this year’s likely favourite, Bobs Worth, who also figures high up in the betting for the Gold Cup, land this before going onto Cheltenham?
Nicky Henderson’s charge, who we last saw landing the RSA Chase, will head into the race as one of the highest-rated and with 3 of the last 5 winners being 7 year-olds then he does have a lot going for him. Add in a course win here at Newbury, when beating Cue Card in a decent novice chase last November, then he’s also got experience of these fences.
Those looking to take him on will look back at his form and notice that Saturday’s ground is likely to be the softest he’s ever encountered, but when you add in positive trends (see below) like age, course form and weight, to the fact the Henderson horses are running well and that he’s won first time out for the past two seasons then, for me, his pluses far outweigh his negatives.
Last year’s winner Carruthers is also entered at this stage and being just 1lb higher this time he’s been given every chance from that angle. He’ll love the heavy ground, but will need to put a very poor recent run behind him. We all know the mighty Denman took this prize twice (2007 & 2009), but the last horse to win the Hennessy Gold Cup back-to-back was Arkle in 1964-65!
Alan King will be hoping their exciting Hold On Julio makes the line-up and this lightly-raced 9 year-old looks an ideal Hennessy type, while a recent third at Cheltenham would have blown the cobwebs away.
Tidal Bay seems to have found a new lease of life now he’s with the Nicholls team, and was eye-catching the way he stayed on in the closing stages to win at Wetherby over hurdles last time – a win that followed-up his victory in the Bet365 Chase last April. There has been a bit of money for him during the week, but he’s now 12lbs higher than that Sandown win and although we’ve seen three horses win with 11-12 in the last 10 years it won’t be easy carrying that kind of weight in really soft ground.
The Package is another that figures prominently in the betting after his Badger Ales Trophy Chase win, but an 8lb hike in the weights makes life harder here. On a plus, he’s gone well at Newbury in the past, winning over hurdles and coming second over fences, and seems to act on most ground, but he struggled off this mark last season so, for me, does have a bit to prove still.
The final one worth a mention at a big price is Philip Hobbs’ Planet Of Sound, who was second in this race 12 months ago. The Hobbs team have found their form at the right time with a whole host of winners in the last week and with him also being 6lbs lower in the ratings than 12 months ago then he could be interesting. He’s also won over fences here at Newbury, but it remains to be seen if connections risk him on ground this heavy.
Onto the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and this gives us chance to see some Champion Hurdle hopefuls in action with Cinders and Ashes, Darlan and last year’s Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby all entered at this stage.
However, a lot will depend on the ground as Rock On Ruby’s connections have already said that if conditions get any softer up at Newcastle then their champion is unlikely to run, with a tilt Stan James International Hurdle at Cheltenham in a few weeks his next best target. While we know Darlan was pulled out at Prestbury Park earlier this month because of bad ground, so that leaves Cinders and Ashes, from the Donald McCain yard who have won this for the last two seasons, the obvious call with two career wins already in heavy ground.
Hennessy Gold Cup Trends
9/10 – Won a chase over at least 3m previously
9/10 – Raced at Newbury previously (5 had won over fences at the track)
9/10 – Won by a horse aged 8 or younger
8/10 – Won a Grade 3 or better class chase race previously
8/10 – Won between 2-5 previous races over fences
8/10 – Priced 10/1 or shorter
7/10 – Winning distance – 2 ½ lengths or more
7/10 – Raced at either Aintree (2) or Cheltenham (5) last time
7/10 – Placed in the first 3 in their latest race
7/10 – Won by a horse aged either 6 or 7 years-old
7/10 – Officially rated between 140 and 151
7/10 – Carried 10-13 or more in weight
5/10 – Had raced already that season
5/10 – Won their last race
5/10 – Won by an Irish-bred
5/10 – Favourites unplaced
3/10 – Favourites that won (1 joint)
3/10 – Trained by Paul Nicholls
2/10 – Ridden by jockey Ruby Walsh
2/10 – Trained by the Pipe stable
11 winners (50%) aged 7 years-old since 1990 (22 runnings)
The average SP in the last 10 runnings is 9/1
Only one winner aged in double-figures since 1968 (1981 Diamond Edge, 10)
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