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The Hennessy preview

This is the highlight of the National Hunt season outside of Cheltenham for me - a top grade handicap full of Graded winners. The defending champ Smad Place returns, 11lb higher than last year, but undoubtedly with a chance to repeat. It might be irrelevant but one indicator of field strength is recent form - just three of the 20 acceptors haven't recorded a win in their last five starts. No dicking around to beat the handicapper here - this is a classy race.

Returning to the blog to cast a magnifying glass over this fine field is astute form student Chris Day, @chrisday100. Prices valid at time of publishing.

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Hennessy Gold Cup Chase
Grade 3, Class 1 Handicap, 3m2f
£200,000
1510 GMT, 0210 AEST


Run on the final Saturday in November, the Hennessy Gold Cup is always one of the season’s best known handicaps, seen as a trial for the best long distance handicap chasers who may have on their agenda races like the Grand National or even Cheltenham’s Gold Cup.

Not surprisingly you’re usually looking for one of last season’s top novices or a horse yet to show its true potential for whatever reason as your fancy is likely to need upwards of 7lbs in hand to land this prize.

Personal highlights from a betting point of view include Strong Flow, Paul Nicholls’ first win as a trainer in 2003, Diamond Harry going by Denman on the bridle, admittedly in receipt of a huge weight concession, in 2010 and Bobs Worth holding off Tidal Bay and Burton Port in a stirring finish in 2012.

In recent times, as trends have become increasingly important in assessing races, especially those with established Ante Post markets, last season’s top novices have come to the fore in the betting and this year sees three of them occupy the top three slots.

Favourite is Colin Tizzard’s Native River, who looks nailed on to run his race, having beaten Un Temps Pour Tout at this meeting last year, finished runner-up in the National Hunt Chase at the festival and then getting a great front running ride from Richard Johnson to win Aintree’s Grade 1 over 3 miles in April. He’d looked laboured behind another of Saturday’s opponents, Blaklion in between at Wetherby on heavy ground but, on the likely prevailing ground, he has a solid look. If he has a weakness he seemed to get outpaced in a bigger field at Cheltenham before staying on again over 6 furlongs further and he won’t get away with that here.

The aforementioned Blaklion, a Graded novice hurdle winner, took his form to another level last season, his first over fences, winning at Cheltenham in December, Wetherby in February and the RSA Chase in March where he improved for the better ground according to his trainer and demonstrated that he could jump in among horses when coming through up the hill to outstay Shaneshill, who subsequently ran Thistlecrack to 7 lengths at Aintree before falling when looking likely to land the Grade 1 3 mile staying hurdle at Punchestown. The only question mark for me is the small fields he has beaten but that can be said about most second season novices as there is a dearth of horses who can compete in open company.

The third top novice from last season is Un Temps Pour Tout, who got to the top via the William Hill Chase where he waltzed in from a mark of 148 after disappointing in his earlier efforts. A Grade 1 winning hurdler in France, he has a superb overall record and won on his reappearance in a small field conditions hurdle at Aintree over 2 ½ miles although he did look like coming off second best to Zarkandar when that one departed at the last. He has to concede weight to the other two and, whilst he may not have been at his best in his races before the festival, his form overall suggests he’ll need to improve again to do so. Both he and Blaklion finished behind Native River at Aintree although the suspicion remains that neither were at their best after arduous efforts at Cheltenham.

Vyta Du Roc, from the stable of Nicky Henderson, a man who knows what it takes to win this race, appears well weighted on his Reynoldstown win and some of his hurdles form is strong but he was comprehensively beaten at the festival by Blaklion and I can’t have him turning that form around here. He prepped for this in the hurdle race won by Un Temps Pour Tout and has been strongly backed, suggesting those who know more than me feel he has a very good chance of doing so.

The other runner from last year’s novices to consider is Henri Parry Morgan from the excellent stable of Peter Bowen, a man who knows how to get horses to show their best form on big days. This one came through lower grade races but improved to split Blaklion and Un Temps Pour Tout at Aintree and is therefore entitled to go well here. His Uttoxeter victory from a mark of 135 has not exactly been franked though and I think he may be just short of the required class when the heat is turned on in the straight.

Last year’s impressive winner, Smad Place, finds himself 22lbs worse off with Saphir Du Rheu on running in this race last year and each has reappeared with solid efforts in readiness for Saturday. He stayed on in eye catching fashion behind Third Intention in the Old Roan Chase over 2 ½ miles at Aintree and Nicholls’ chaser, who has undeniably promised more than he has delivered over fences so far but remains well weighted compared to his peak for over hurdles, filled third spot in a warm Ascot contest to tee himself up for this. Both are short enough in the betting for me and I fancy something better handicapped to finish ahead of them here although Alan King’s grey will doubtless be carried out on his shield.

Vicente doesn’t look too badly in here, just 5lbs higher for his Scottish National victory but the suspicion is that he’ll improve for the run and has targets later in the season. Unusually Nicholls does not use any of his claiming jockeys here, presumably they’ll be trying to win the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle for the champion trainer up at Newcastle on a day where the two big staying chases clash.

Tizzard’s other runner, Theatre Guide, who ran second in this last year and reappeared with a 2 ½ length second at Wetherby recently, is reported to be working well and has had a wind operation to help him with his breathing. A winner of the old Racing Post Chase at Kempton in February, big fields clearly hold no fears for him and he looks sure to be right there on the turn for home.

Very few of the outsiders make much appeal but I do think Aubusson worthy of a mention. Always thought of as a chaser who would improve for decent ground, he won the same Fixed Brush Handicap the stable won with their previous Hennessy winner, Diamond Harry, and his owner, the trainer’s wife, has always said he’s not for sale as they consider him top class. His sole victory over fences in England came this time last year at Uttoxeter and a look at the subsequent ratings of those in behind reveals that finishing clear with his head in his chest was a smart effort. He went off a shorter price than Blaklion for the Dipper Chase on New Year’s Day but was pulled up having apparently hated the heavy ground. The stable have had a number of very useful horses over the years and, while this one seems to be a little fragile, he’s been keeping top company over hurdles in the meantime presumably to preserve his mark for this and I make him the pick of the prices at 33-1.

Selections
Blaklion 2pts win @ 8-1
Aubusson 1pt each way @ 33-1

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