Tuesday 4 November 2014

Hennessy Gold Cup to provide Cheltenham clues

On November 29, one of the most competitive handicap races of the whole National Hunt season will be staged at Newbury as the Hennessy Gold Cup provides another thrilling spectacle with plenty of serious Cheltenham Festival contenders amongst what is sure to be a high-quality field of staying chasers.

Ahead of the big event betting firms are struggling to find a favourite and bet 10/1 the field. Take your pick from such as Fingal Bay [pictured], Djakadam, Smad Place, Many Clouds, Rocky Creek, and many, many more. The same horses can all be backed at 11.0 or bigger on Betfair.

It may well be the case that by the time the runners go down to the start at the Berkshire track a clear favourite will have emerged having either put up a notable performance in the interim or been the subject of a major off-course ante-post gamble. The Hennessy Gold Cup has a history of producing smart performances by horses that often go on to excel at the Cheltenham Festival four months later. In recent renewals Paul Nicholls’ superb Denman (winner in both 2007 & 2009) went on to land the Cheltenham Gold Cup, while Nicky Henderson’s Bobs Worth won the 2012 ‘Hennessy’ before following up in the blue riband event in the spring of 2013 in tremendous style.

It’s not only Gold Cup winners who come out of the Hennessy field. Plenty of horses have run well in the race before going on to land other big prizes, including the feature handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival and other major spring Festivals at Aintree and Punchestown. The Newbury contest is definitely one to keep a close eye as the cream of the staying handicap chasers, many of whom are graded class and often close to Grade 1 level, take each other on in what is always a tremendous spectacle.

With the Philip Hobbs team probably in better shape than any of the other major yards at this stage of the campaign it would be dangerous not to seriously consider the chance of his likeable Fingal Bay, formerly a very classy staying hurdler who has done well since making the transitions to the larger obstacles. His win last season in the listed Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle final at the Cheltenham Festival shows what a versatile horse the eight-year-old son of King’s Theatre is.

His gutsy nose defeat of Southfield Theatre was a tremendous effort following a pleasing reappearance win at Exeter a month earlier. That came on the back of a long absence as the result of sustaining a serious injury early on in what had already become a very useful novice chasing career in autumn 2012. After his win at Cheltenham, Fingal Bay headed to the Punchestown Festival and contested the Grade 1 Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle, but could only finish fifth behind Jetson, a performance that convinced Hobbs that his charge was just a little short of the top rung over timber and that he should concentrate on chasing this season. There’s every chance that the likeable stayer could well prove a star over fences this season.

Another interesting contender for the Hennessy Gold Cup is Alan King’s Smad Place, a really tough performer who rarely runs a bad race. Twice placed third in the World Hurdle, Smad Place took really well to fences last season winning nicely at Exeter and at Newbury before going down with all guns blazing in a terrific renewal of the Grade 1 RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. That race, often seen as a contest won by horses with future Gold Cup pretentions, eventually went the way of the Rebecca Curtis-trained O’Faolains Boy who wore down King’s game performer in the shadow of the post to score by a neck.

Like Fingal Bay, Smad Place will have his fair share of weight at Newbury but he looks a potential high-class chaser and could prove hard to beat if he is fully wound up on what is likely to be his first start of the campaign.

Oliver Sherwood’s Many Clouds has already thrown down his Hennessy Gold Cup marker in making an impressive winning reappearance in a listed chase at Carlisle in early-November, staying on in fine style to beat Nicky Richards’ Eduard and the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Holywell, favourite with some firms in the ante-post market for the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself.

Many Clouds was useful last term, and the Trevor Hemmings-owned stayer appears to have come to hand early this campaign and is on the upgrade. He looks just the right sort for the Newbury contest and is sure to prove popular on the big day in what is invariably a hot betting contest with so many horses being relatively unexposed and thought capable of better, not only by connections, but also by the betting public.