The Hennessy Gold Cup Chase at Newbury is one of the most prestigious handicaps of the season with a prize fund of £200,000 (3.10pm Saturday live on Channel 4).
Native River looks an extremely worthy leader of the Hennessy betting market at 6/1 for the Colin Tizzard yard. This tall six-year-old chestnut has found his perfect partner in Richard Johnson. He definitely benefits from a much stronger galvanising force than his customary cheekpieces provide.
The partnership won the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree (over three miles one furlong) in April, beating Henry Parry Morgan three lengths. This season Native River has proved his wellbeing by finishing second to Silsol in the Bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby, beating the thoroughly useful Lil Rockerfeller half a length. Native River clearly acts on good to soft at this course, he won a Grade 2 Novices’ Chase here a year ago, beating Un Temps Pour Tout (7/1) by nearly four lengths – and that was before Johnson got on board.
That form makes it difficult to fancy Un Temps Pour Tout. Now a seven-year-old, he was beaten carrying 7lb less than Native River back then and he is giving him 3lb here. Trainer David Pipe (pictured) is gaining momentum but this £450K purchase from France still looks an expensive one. Un Temps Pour Tout won first time out over hurdles this time, beating nothing that looked fit, so the necessary progression to reverse the placings with the favourite has yet to be proved. His price seems ungenerous if past form is any indicator.
Henry Parry Morgan (10/1) initially looks a more feasible investment having finished closer to Native River than Un Temps Pour Tout off level weights at Aintree. He benefits from a 5lb advantage over him here but there are a number of concerns about his chances.
Firstly this eight-year-old son of Brian Boru has never scored on his seasonal debut and, unlike the majority here, he has not had a prep run. A field of this size also looks less than ideal for him as he has ploughed through fences and unseated his jockey on the last two occasions that he has encountered more than 12 rivals. Peter Bowen’s horses are running well but all his recent winners have been out before scoring. Henry Parry Morgan is a likeable little horse but is probably best watched at this price.
Smad Place (10/1) has pretty good form here, winning this race by a whopping 12 lengths on soft ground last year. That performance got him noticed as a very decent horse but, having blown his handicap mark, he was found wanting in top class company. When his trainer Alan King was asked before the King George if the ground would be an issue for him he replied that the ground was fine but the opposition was the problem. He was right, Smad Place did nothing wrong and ran his race but was outpaced, beaten 16 lengths by Cue Card.
It is no coincidence that Smad Place’s only Grade 2 win (in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January) was on heavy ground. He is tough and very game but not the fastest. His seasonal debut over a deliberately inadequate two and a half miles was respectable. He was only beaten four lengths by the Tizzard-trained Third Intention. This nine-year-old is burdened with topweight but is a strongly made type who should cope with it better than most. If, and only if, the ground is soft on the day he is interesting each-way.
Last year’s 9/2 favourite in the Hennessy betting, Saphir Du Rheu (8/1), is available at almost double the price this time. Paul Nicholls admits that this promising gelding whom he has always rated has something to prove after failing to fire for most of last season. Saphir Du Rheu won first time out and then fizzled out. He was beaten 22 lengths by Smad Place here and was so far behind Thistlecrack in two runs over hurdles that his orange colours must have been a speck in the distance. Back over fences, Saphir Du Rheu was annihilated by Cue Card in the Betfred Bowl, finishing 44 lengths behind him. In his final run in the Oaksey Chase at Sandown blinkers were tried for the first time but he was beaten 14 lengths by Philip Hobbs’ Menorah. In Saphir Du Rheu’s defence, many of Nicholls’ horses were not exactly thriving until the very end of the season.
Saphir Du Rheu’s first effort this time was encouraging but not for the punters who backed him as the 9/4 favourite in the Sodexo Gold Cup Handicap Chase. He was beaten four lengths by Gary Moore’s Anthony who was carrying nearly two stone less than him on ground that was on the quick side for this sizeable grey. Nicholls thinks that he needed the run and that his Hennessy chances have to be boosted by being 10lb lower in the weights this year. The Ditcheat malaise last season could have provided the proverbial good thing this time. Nicholls is not being over-bullish and says that everything has to go right for him. His jockey Nick Scholfield thinks Saphir Du Rheu has the class required to get home.
Nicholls’ other runner Vicente (20/1) finished last season with a win in the Scottish National and consequently starts off a 5lb higher mark here. Unlike his stablemate he has nothing to prove but looks less well treated by the handicapper. Nicholls believes that Vicente is suited by flat tracks and he usually runs well when fresh. Harry Skelton, the brother of Nicholls’ former assistant trainer Dan has been booked for the ride, the partnership have possible each-way claims.
Nicholls’ arch rival Nicky Henderson saddles the more strongly fancied seven-year-old Vyta Du Roc (8/1). This French-bred was beaten 18 lengths by his compatriot Un Temps Pour Tout over hurdles in early November, looking to need the run. If that race has put him spot on he could do well but he is another contender that seems ungenerously priced as he seems to need soft ground to produce his best performances. He was outpaced rather than outstayed in the Scottish National, beaten 10 lengths by Vicente.
Henderson also sends out the 2013 Hennessy winner, Triolo D’Alene (33/1). He has not been seen since his unsuccessful second Grand National attempt and has been described by his trainer as a ‘stuffy’ sort who will always come on for his first run. This will be his seasonal debut so, although he has class, he is probably in the best watched category.
A more fancied contender is Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Blaklion (8/1). His best bit of form is his RSA Chase win in March which sounds impressive but may be misleading as the favourite, More Of That, broke a blood vessel. His rating was raised to 154 after that run and has not changed. Sam Twiston-Davies is full of praise for this seven-year-old, especially his game attitude. Blaklion appeared to need the run when lining up in a Grade 2 at Wetherby at the end of October, he was beaten eight lengths by Irish Cavalier and did not help himself by making a mistake two from home. He holds little appeal at his current price.
Our Preview’s Hennessy Gold Cup Chase Betting Tip Verdict
Anything can happen over three miles plus with plenty of fences in between but, with horses that he has beaten at only marginally longer odds, our Hennessy Gold Cup preview’s betting tip has to be NATIVE RIVER. The stable is in great form and this super-relaxed horse should be able to handle a race of this scale with aplomb. Back him each-way best-priced at 6/1 with Betfred or Coral.