Progressive Michel a serious Hennessy contender


Champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who has won the race three times in the last nine years, appears to have another likely sort for the Grade 3 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on December 1 in the shape of the up-and-coming Michel Le Bon, a fine runner-up in a hot contest on his recent seasonal reappearance at Wincanton.
The Ditcheat handler sent out Strong Flow to land the spoils back in 2003, then famouslytrained the mighty Denman to upset the horse racing betting odds in winning two renewals of the ultra-competitive three-and-a-quarter-mile contest in 2007 & 2009. Although he may have three or four runners in this year’s event with the likes of Harry the Viking and Tidal Bay possibly set to face the starter, it is Michel Le Bon who many people have marked out as a potential fourth winner for the yard in the last decade.
The lightly raced nine-year-old hinted at serious potential over the larger obstacles in November 2009 when winning his first start by 60 lengths, only to then be sidelined for two years with leg problems. He was very much thrown in at the deep end by Nicholls when asked to return to the fray in none other than last year’s Hennessy Gold Cup, and in the circumstances ran very well to finish tenth to Carruthers, holding every chance until lack of race fitness took its toll from the fourth last and he gradually faded.
Sent off the 7/2 favourite with the likes of Paddy Power online betting for the Grade 3 Racing Post Chase at Kempton Park in February, things didn’t go to plan for the gelded son of Villez, who was never going particularly well and was pulled up quickly after the 13th, but he bounced back at the end of the campaign, (after being dropped 10lbs by the handicapper), to defeat Pause And Clause by a length-and-a-half in a confidence boosting Cheltenham novices hurdle.
Returning this term in the listed Badger Ales Trophy Handicap Chase at Wincanton in early-November, Michel Le Bon ran a fine trial for Newbury, staying-on wellinside the final half mile to run into second place behind the David Pipe-trained The Package, hinting that with an injury-free run he might just pick up a decent handicap this season if he gets the breaks.
Solid support with all firms has seen Nicholls’ big hope forced down to 10/1 joint-third favourite alongside Hold On Julio, with Bob’s Worth the current 4/1 ante-post market leader, and old rival The Package offered at 7/1.

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