Welcome to my preview for this weeks feature event in the winter festival at Newbury, the Hennessy.
As things stand the track is currently described as soft and is raceable. The forecast for later in the week is slightly better so fingers crossed that the early season showpiece can go ahead. The five-day decs came out today and there are 22 runners currently confirmed with Tidal Bay topping the weights at 11-12. In the past 25 years top weight has been carried to victory on three occasions, twice by Denman and once by Trabolgan in 2005 suggesting that Tidal Bay will have it all to do. Without doubt though it has to be said that Paul Nicholls seems to have found the key to the enigmatic son of Flemensfirth and he has to be taken seriously. He has form on soft ground including when sluicing to victory in last season’s BET365 Gold Cup at Sandown. That victory came off a mark of 154 and this Saturday he will need to cope with a 12lb rise. You could however have called him the winner a long way out that day. His return over hurdles at Wetherby showed that he is still in good health and Ruby has been booked for the ride. One thing that we can be certain of is that despite his weight, he will be staying on when other are crying for the oxygen tank. I do think he is a major player but winning this off a mark of 166 will be tough with so many whipper snappers on tempting marks.
The major stat against Tidal Bay will be his age. The last 11 year old to win the Hennessy was Rondetto back in 1967, in fact the only other horse in that time period with a double figure age to win was Fulke Walwyn’s Diamond Edge back in 1981 who was 10 at the time. Since that victory the winners ages are as follows:
6 year olds: 5 wins
7 year olds: 11 wins
8 year olds: 7 wins
9 year olds: 7 wins
In more recent times 6 & 7 years olds have had a very good record. Roberto Goldback, Planet of Sound and Lion Na Bearnai are all ten years of age and have the stats against them too.
More recently last years winner will re-appear in the form of Carruthers. He has always been well-regarded and he is a horse I was always sure had a big handicap in him at some stage. He won last year off 146 and this year gets in off just one pound higher. It certainly brings him into the equation especially if Mattie Batch can get him into a jumping rhythm out front. I do just wonder if last year was his day in the sun though. He hasn’t convinced on any of his other starts since that day and although I might throw a few sentimental quid at him I think he will struggle to repeat.
My strong feeling for this year’s renewal is that you want an improving horse that will carry less than 11 stone. The clear ante-post favourite for the race is Nicky Henderson’s Bob’s Worth but I think he is massively under priced and therefore there must be value elsewhere. He won in my opinion a well below par RSA chase at the festival last year. Grand Crus scoped badly after the race. Call The Police who was third was beaten out of sight on his next three starts. First Lieutenant was also well beaten on his final two starts last year before a fair 2nd behind Kauto Stone in the JNWine Chase on his re-appearance. He had been well and truly put in his place prior to Cheltenham by both Invictus at Ascot and Grand Crus in the Feltham at Christmas. Prior to the Paddy Power last weekend the handicapper gave Grand Crus a rating of 157, here bobs worth has got to try to win a very competitive handicap on his re-appearance off 160 (11st6lbs). I for one will be more than happy to take him on.
There has been an awful lot of ranting and raving about The Package being laid out for the race. Personally I just can’t see it. I read a tweet the other day saying he is well handicapped? What was this based on? His highest ever winning mark was last time in the Badger Ales off 139. His only other win over fences came back at Cheltenham in December 2009 off 132. Up 8 pounds for his win at Wincanton in a race where the front two were 41 lengths clear of the rest, there is not enough substance there for me, and this will require by far and away a career best. He generally is a horse that is at his best fresh too. I think there is plenty there to suggest he can be left out.
So where does that leave us? Well for starters I am looking for an improving horse that will carry less than 11 stone. This provides me with the following short list:
Hold On Julio
Duke of Lucca
Harry The Viking
I’ll start with Harry The Viking as he is the least likely basically down to the fact that he is being prepared for a tilt at the Grand National. Paul Nicholls likes to use the big season chases as a prep for the big day in the spring. He does carry some positives though. Firstly he has been lumping big weights around in competitive handicaps so he will feel like he is running free around here off 10-2. He is a certain stayer. Daryl Jacob has been booked for the ride, Daryl has ridden him three times and won on all three occasions. He is just seven and fits the profile of a Hennessy Winner. He may well run a good race without winning but at 25/1 and bigger available you could get a very good run for your money.
Duke of Lucca is particularly interesting as he really fits the profile of a Hennessy winner. An improving seven-year old for the Philip Hobbs team that had a very satisfactory return to action at Ascot when finishing 2nd to Roberto Goldback back on the 3rd November. He had made up good ground that day and was going well when clouting the third last that brought his winning chance to an end. He should have come on a bundle for that re-appearance run and he gets a very healthy 12lb pull in the weights with the winner. Over the last two years he has form lines with the likes of Big Buck’s, Oscar Whiskey, Cristal Bonus and Sir Des Champs that suggest a mark of 144 and 10 stone 4lb could underestimate his ability. Very interesting at a general 20/1.
Hold On Julio is a horse I really like. He progressed quickly last year with wins at Sandown off 117 and 133 before finishing down the field at Cheltenham in the race won by Alfie Sherrin (future Welsh and Grand National winner). His re-appearance this season was a very satisfactory third behind the rapidly improving Balthazar King was a great effort and will have blown away all the cobwebs. He is so lightly raced (7 starts under rules) that there is any amount of improvement left in him this season and a mark of 148 may still under value him. The yard (Alan King) are going much better this year than they have been at any point for the last two seasons and I think he is a huge player and would be my overall selection for the race.
It should be another fascinating renewal. Shouldn’t go without giving 2010 winner Diamond Harry a mention. He just doesn’t look the horse of old to me and I can see him struggling, if of course he does make it to the race. FRISCO DEPOT is a horse that I happen to think is well handicapped and is a general 8/1 shot. The problem is he is probably 8/1 just to get round as he tends to clout at least a couple and for that reason in such a competitive race I would be happy to let him go, but if he jumps round he could be a blot.
HOLD ON JULIO 3 PTS WIN @ 8/1
DUKE OF LUCCA 1 PT WIN @ 20/1
HARRY THE VIKING 1 PT WIN @ 25/1
Have a great week and let’s hope the weather improves!
All the best