Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thursday thoughts on the Hennessy Gold Cup

The Hennessy is one of my favourite races in the calendar and it certainly looks a high class renewal this year with Denman set to carry top weight and any number of talented rivals keen to take him on with what racing folk would describe as a 'racing weight'. Denman's problems last year have been well documented, so his performance in finishing thirteen lengths second to stablemate Kauto Star in the Cheltenham Gold Cup was excellent; three weeks later he fell two out in the Totesport Bowl at Aintree - the suspicion was he would have struggled to contain Madison Du Berlais on that occasion. The question everyone is asking now is 'Has he fully recovered?' Saturday's running should give a good indication. Trainer Paul Nicholls is on record as saying he expects the horse to come in fourth or fifth; at around 7/2 he offers no value from a betting perspective.

Nicholls saddles two others, What A Friend and My Will. The former, part owned by Manchester United manager Sir Alec Ferguson, carries plenty of stable confidence but I'm not convinced. He ran below par in the RSA Chase last March and has tended to do most of his winning in small fields.

Nicky Henderson's operation is in very good form at the moment (two winners today); his entry, Barbers Shop, ran seventh in the Gold Cup last March and should have strengthened up over the summer break. With just ten stones eight to carry, he looks to hold every chance - should he win, the press is likely to have a field day as the horse is owned by Her Majesty The Queen. The trainer feels the horse's best trip is an easy three miles, although he will stay. After discussions with various jockeys, connections have decided to try him in cheekpieces for the first time, just to help the concentration. For me, this is the one that makes most appeal of the market leaders.

Evan Williams runs two, the 2006 winner State Of Play and 2009 Cheltenham Foxhunter winner Cappa Bleu. Stable jockey Paul Moloney rides the former but the long-term aim is the Grand National next April, whereas Cappa Bleu is unexposed and has had this race as his target for some time.

Two that have run respectable trials are Nenuphar Collonges (sixth in the Badger Ales at Wincanton) and Killyglen (seven lengths second conceding sixteen pounds to Knockara Beau over an inadequate two and a half miles at Carlisle).

Mon Mome was 100/1 when he won the National in April, so Ladbrokes current price of 50/1 may not be the best indication of his chance here; on his day he's a jolly good horse who will not be inconvenienced by further rain. Trainer Venetia Williams' charges have started to run into some form over the past week or so.

The 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner War Of Attrition gets in here with just ten stone six and is quoted at 33/1 with most books. Having said that, this race often goes to a young, up-and-coming chaser - there's a suspicion that at the age of ten he may be past his prime; another Irish raider Casey Jones makes more appeal.

At the moment, of those at the head of the market, I prefer Barbers Shop. Two that make some appeal at bigger prices are Alan King's Nenuphar Collonges (25/1 Coral) and Bob Buckler's Niche Market (40/1 Bet365) - this one won the Irish National last April and finished eighth in the Badger Ales on his reappearance, six and three quarter lengths behind NC and some twenty seven lengths behind winner Ellerslie George.

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