JUST five may have turned up for the Betfair Chase last Saturday but the Hennessy Gold Cup promises to be something completely different. Seventeen go to post for the £200,000 contest, one of the oldest and greatest races of the season on Saturday. It is the major highlight of the three-day bet365 Festival at Newbury, which started on Thursday.
Despite the defection of Coneygree, the race has retained much of its appeal as a contest both for the purists and punters. Saphir Du Rheu is a solid enough favourite. The six-year-old won a Grade One novices’ chase at Aintree last season and also made a winning comeback when comfortably landing a Listed chase by seven lengths from The Young Master at Carlisle on November 1.
As well as The Young Master, trainer Neil Mulholland is represented by The Druids Nephew, seventh in last year’s renewal before going on to take a Grade Three handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Colin Tizzard expects the likely pace of the race to play into the hands of Theatre Guide. The eight-year-old, who runs in the same colours as Cue Card, shaped well on his reappearance when third at Wetherby.
Bobs Worth landed the race in 2012 before winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2013. He got back to winning ways when defeating Simonsig in a conditions hurdle at Aintree on November 7 and is racing from a 7lb lower mark than when winning in 2012. He looks well handicapped but I’m not sure the testing ground will play to his strengths.
Alan King’s stable has been in great form and he saddles Smad Place and Ned Stark. Smad Place finished a staying-on fifth last year with the trainer blaming himself for not giving him a prep run. He won a graduation chase by eight lengths from Fingal Bay at Kempton on November 2, while the lightly-raced Ned Stark was a Grade Two scorer at Wetherby last season. The latter is a progressive and scopey individual and looks excellent each-way value at a best priced 12/1. I suspect his price will contract further.
Other contenders include Houblon Des Obeaux, who was runner-up to Many Clouds in 2014 and also chased home Coneygree in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury in February, while If In Doubt disappointed on his final start of last season in the Irish Grand National but triumphed in the Listed Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.
The Irish are represented by Urano and Mouse Morris’s First Lieutenant, who finished third to Bobs Worth back in 2012.
Selection: Ned Stark (each-way)