Hennessy Gold Cup Preview: Druid to conjure some more improvement

Hennessy legend Denman
Hennessy legend Denman

The Hennessy on Saturday looks a typically open renewal. Keith Melrose picks out one to be with.

"Whatever you might think of it, there's something to be learned from today's prevailing wisdom. The Hennessy Gold Cup requires a certain type of horse and that applies whether they're bound for the Gold Cup or not."

If you found yourself idly flicking through Teeton Mill's record last week, you were probably struck by how differently staying chasers are moulded now. So few come to the track through the hunter route (Kingscliff being the last to make the top) and even once they reach the big leagues today's micro-managed chasers tend to be pushed through one of two doors: one labelled 'Denman', the other 'Kauto Star'. The idea of running in the Hennessy and the King George and the Ascot Chase wouldn't enter the modern trainer's mind, but that's exactly how Teeton Mill plotted his course to Gold Cup favouritism in 1999.

Whatever you might think of it, there's something to be learned from today's prevailing wisdom. The Hennessy Gold Cup requires a certain type of horse and that applies whether they're bound for the Gold Cup or not.

Denman is the archetype. Being the equine equivalent of a lock forward is an advantage, though the main attributes required are a surplus of stamina and bold jumping that can hold up to a big-field handicap.

This is why Djakadam isn't the bet in Saturday's Hennessy. Make no mistake, he's an exciting young chaser and probably much better than a BHA mark of 142. It's just that, as a 5.49/2 favourite days before final declarations, we have to hold up Djakadam to a harsher light, and when it comes to jumping assuredness and copper-bottomed stamina we simply have to return a verdict of 'not proven' on a horse that has run just three times over fences and never beyond 21 furlongs. Not proven isn't good enough for a conviction; certainly not at 5.49/2 in a Hennessy.

Firming up our point about Djakadam's enticing mark is the fact that on Timeform weight-adjusted figures only one horse is ahead of him. That horse is The Druids Nephew. He's 6 lb well-in on BHA ratings and we feel even that is underplaying his improvement for Neil Mulholland this autumn. A routine win at Huntingdon was bettered by some way when The Druid's Nephew just lost out to the talented Sam Winner at Cheltenham recently.

You could argue that The Druids Nephew was the better horse on the day- giving Sam Winner a start when he's in the mood is a difficult task. You can say with certainty that he's the more interesting now. He's straightforward, unexposed and thriving with this yard, plus he's evidently got plenty of stamina for this trip and has scarcely put a foot wrong jumping-wise. In short, The Druids Nephew fits our Hennessy winner profile ideally and odds of around 15.014/1, still widely available, should be taken.

In terms of overall strength, this year's Hennessy sits somewhere above average without quite demanding breathless, whatever-you-do-don't-miss-it headlines. The spring's RSA form is regularly represented in the Hennessy these days and, with O'Faolains Boy (who incidentally would have been an ideal Hennessy type) out for the season, runner-up Smad Place assumes the position. Reliable, experienced and already an assured jumper, there are few doubts over Smad Place putting up a strong showing. Minor negatives arise from his mark (he'd need to better his hurdles form to win off 155) and the idea that, though he'll probably stay three and a quarter miles, it's probably as far as he'll go. At 9.08/1, those doubts are enough.

Fingal Bay also brings some Festival-level class to the race. He won the Pertemps Final, a piece of form that's well worth revisiting in the fullness of time with Southfield Theatre, Trustan Times, Jetson and, of course, Pineau de Re chasing him home. That's enough to deduce that Fingal Bay has ability in advance of a BHA mark of 153 (148 in the Pertemps). Where the evidence is lacking is over fences. Fingal Bay was first cast into the wilderness after a novice campaign that started promisingly but ended calamitously after a disagreement with the wings of Exeter's third-last. We don't even have to be twice shy to have our reservations on his first chasing start since.

Having picked apart a few of the favourites, we'll round off by flagging a couple of those down the betting who are worth a look. We'll start with Black Thunder, who is fancied to turn the tables on What A Warrior from the United House Chase under conditions that appeal as much more his thing. Expect to see him go well, though a rise from Ascot of 6 lb to 155 with the BHA might just stop him from winning.

We'd be tempted to mention Monbeg Dude (who continues to get better) and four-miler winner Midnight Prayer, too, though vibes from the exchanges suggest neither is likely to run, acknowledging that Tom Bellamy is already booked to ride Midnight Prayer. We can be quite confident that Wychwoods Brook will run having been given what has all the hallmarks of a prep run at Worcester and he could be one to watch if conditions put the emphasis on stamina: it was bottomless when he won the Peter Marsh from just 4 lb lower last December.

Ultimately this year's Hennessy rates as a particularly competitive renewal, the type in which you would struggle to justify backing any horse at 5.49/2. That takes us, with some reluctance, away from Djakadam and towards some of the thriving chasers at double-figure odds. The Druids Nephew tops our list. He's been one of the revelations of the jumps season so far and can become the latest to use the Hennessy as a launchpad to the top staying chases.

Recommended bet:

Back The Druids Nephew @ 15.014/1 in the Hennessy Gold Cup

Get a Free £/€20 Exchange Bet

  • Join Now - Open your account today using promo code VAL225
  • Bet - Place a £/€20 Bet on the Exchange
  • Earn - £/€20 Back in cash if your bet loses
Bet Now

T&Cs apply.

Discover the latest articles

Read past articles