When attempting to write an article of this ilk it is commonplace to find an 'in', a sort of preamble that is in some way, however tenuously, linked to the key point of the piece or gets the article underway. Try as I might, and I've been sat here for some time now, I can't find one for this weekend's Hennessy Gold Cup, so it seems pertinent to discuss what the race is missing before we analyse Saturday's line-up.
The success of Carruthers last year hid the fact there was a lack of a standout second-season chaser, as the stories of both Lord Oaksey and Mattie Batchelor provided plenty of column inches post-race, and it also concealed the absence of Denman who ran in the race in '07, '09 and '10. Last season's renewal was by no means a vintage one and were Bobs Worth to be an absentee on account of the ground this year we would be left in a similar boat.
It has been reported that Nicky Henderson, trainer of Bobs Worth, is worried about the likely conditions for his charge, and a quick look back at the seven-year-old's career to date gives foundation to that worry. He is yet to race on a surface slower than good to soft and, for those who are supporting him at the current price of 6.05/1, that has to be a point of concern, whether that trend has come about intentionally or not.
Were Henderson to give the all-clear for Bobs Worth's participation he would be the most dangerous of dangers, even taking into account that this would mark his seasonal reappearance. His performance in the RSA Chase, when beating the potentially reopposing First Lieutenant by two and a half lengths, represented a marked improvement upon his previous three starts over fences with his jumping finally coming together. The extra two furlongs of the Hennessy will play to Bobs Worth's strengths more than First Lieutenant's, so the suspicion is that he will confirm the form, but with his involvement somewhat up in the sky, the temptation is to look elsewhere at this stage.
That is just the problem though, as where else do you look? Hennessys of old were chock-full of promising recruits from the novice chasing field but the list of those taking part this time around doesn't really spark the imagination. First Lieutenant has already been touched upon as likely to play second fiddle to Bobs Worth were that rival to line-up, but he would have a pretty decent chance of going close if he misses out. Teaforthree is likely to have the Welsh National as his main aim whilst Frisco Depot took a crunching fall earlier this month and will need to be stern stuff for that not to have left a mark. Duke of Lucca is difficult to crab but at the same time it's hard to make a strong enough case for him, and similar sentiments apply to both Soll and Alfie Spinner.
The pair that are of most interest are Harry The Viking and Saint Are, with both boasting the potential to improve slightly this season. The former arguably has most scope for progression but made a shuddering mistake at the seventeenth fence on his reappearance which eliminated his chance and, for all that he is certainly worthy of another chance, he may truly come into his own when sent into races where stamina is at an absolute premium.
Saint Are is an interesting character, as his three best efforts have come at Aintree. After finishing second to Champion Court on chase debut last season he took a while to find his feet, often making jumping errors, but he was much more fluent when winning on his latest outing in April and, if translating his Merseyside ability to the Berkshire course, he would make some appeal.
We now head into the realms of the more exposed performers, a list which has to be headed by Tidal Bay. The old rogue has been on best behaviour on his last two starts, winning the bet365 Gold Cup with consummate ease on his final start of last season before running right up to his very smart best over hurdles when winning at Wetherby on his reappearance. The fact that he will compete off a 12 lb higher mark than for his Sandown win last season is really of little relevance as, if he turns up in the correct frame of mind, he possesses more than enough talent to land the spoils, but he is most difficult to trust and therefore will not be recommended.
The Package heads the Timeform weight-adjusted ratings and is of interest following his impressive success in the Badger Ales Chase earlier this month, but he has been restricted to just three starts in the last two years and there is the potential for him to find this coming too soon, so it could be wise to side with another lightly-raced contender, namely Hold On Julio.
The nine-year-old has had just the seven starts under Rules, although he has won a number of point-to-points, and his career since joining current trainer Alan King has an appealing look to it. He progressed well in his first three starts over fences, winning on each occasion and beating subsequent Grand National winner Neptune Collonges on the third instance, before meeting with a slight setback at Cheltenham. He could manage only tenth in a handicap at the Festival, soon beaten after clouting the fourteenth obstacle, but the lasting impression heading into this season was that he remained with the potential to progress.
Hold On Julio duly obliged, running his best race yet on Timeform performance figures as he finished third in an open-looking handicap, again at Cheltenham, beaten just over a length by Balthazar King. He remains unexposed and, if managing to cut out the odd jumping error that has seemingly been holding him back ever so slightly, would have an excellent chance of going close here.
With Bobs Worth's participation still up in the air somewhat it is difficult to nail down the shape that this race might take, but the overriding impression is that it is lacking a horse that has 'Hennessy winner' emblazoned upon it. Aside from the aforementioned Nicky Henderson-trained representative, Saint Are makes most appeal of those making the transition from novice company but, with him needing to prove he can perform away from Aintree, it may be worth siding with Hold On Julio. He needs to sharpen up his jumping but remains with potential to improve and can become the latest name to be added to the Hennessy Gold Cup roll of honour.
Back Hold On Julio @ 8.415/2 in the Hennessy Gold Cup
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