Hennessy Gold Cup: The best Approach to finding the winner

Nicky Henderson: Trainer of Hadrian's Approach

After putting up Cue Card to win the Betfair Chase last week, Timeform's Matt Gardner turns his attention to this weekend's highlight, the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury...

"Hadrian's Approach was beaten on his reappearance at Kempton earlier this month but don't hold that against him..."

          Out of the night that covers me, 
             Black as the Pit from pole to pole, 
             I thank whatever gods may be 
             For my unconquerable soul.

             In the fell clutch of circumstance 
             I have not winced nor cried aloud. 
             Under the bludgeonings of chance 
             My head is bloody, but unbowed.

             Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
             Looms but the horror of the shade, 
             And yet the menace of the years 
             Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

             It matters not how strait the gate, 
             How charged with punishments the scroll, 
             I am the master of my fate; 
             I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus, a poem by William Ernest Henley first published in 1875, was written as a reflection by the author on his ability to lead an active life despite suffering from crippling tubercular arthritis from a young age. The motive is clear to the reader, the text very much centred on that theme, though there is certainly an open-ended feel to it, with the language used making it prime for reader interpretation.

The poem's namesake, a seven-year-old racehorse in the care of Alan King, heads the market for the 2013 Hennessy Gold Cup, a fact that will lead many punters to his door in a similar way to Henley attempting to guide his audience, though his very presence in the race opens it right up to a number of interpretations; is he the most likely winner on his return from an absence/injury? Does he deserve his position in the market? Are there realistic candidates with which to take him on?

Invictus, who has raced just four times over fences, certainly remains capable of better in this sphere and his form put him right there with the best of them in this contest. Initially he wasn't overfaced in his new discipline, allowed to get his eye in with fairly straightforward assignments at Hereford and Plumpton, before being upped in grade in the Dipper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham. Clearly he wasn't himself that day, reportedly losing a shoe, but he more than made up for that when taking the notable scalps of both Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti in the Reynoldstown at Kempton, producing a smart effort to win in ready fashion.

The suspicion is that neither Bobs Worth nor Silviniaco Conti really fired that day but that isn't to crab Invictus' achievement; it was an anticipated step in the development of his career. Unfortunately his 2011/12 season, and the following one, was curtailed by a setback met when being prepared for a tilt at the RSA Chase so he has a lengthy absence to overcome, but that isn't the main concern with him. Is it possible, in the knowledge that he was available to back at 15.014/1 a few weeks ago, to pile in at 8.615/2

Heading the alternatives is Hadrian's Approach, a lightly-raced hurdler who made the perfect start to his career over fences when beating the likes of The Druids Nephew and Rolling Aces at Ascot in November of last year. Though he failed to register a success throughout the rest of the season, the fact that connections fast-tracked him to a Grade 2 at Newbury, where he looked threatening when falling four out, and then the Grade 1 Feltham at Kempton highlights the regard in which he is held. 

Hadrian's Approach was beaten on his reappearance at Kempton earlier this month but don't hold that against him, as he was inconvenienced by the drop to two and a half miles and a relatively poor round of jumping did him no favours either. The fact that he was beaten only a nose by a fairly unexposed one from the Paul Nicholls yard does him great credit and, for all that his jumping is a worry, there is every chance that he may yet have more to offer in just his second season over fences.

Having discussed Hadrian's Approach we must also touch on Lord Windemere, who finished seven and three-quarter lengths in front of Nicky Henderson's charge when winning the RSA Chase in March. The seven-year-old barely needed to improve to triumph on his first crack at three miles that day but he certainly has to here, an opening handicap mark of 154 looking stiff enough when taking into account the level of form he has achieved, and he could struggle to confirm the form with Hadrian's Approach.

There are several others on a lengthy shortlist, all of whom can be dealt with relatively swiftly: Rocky Creek remains with potential over fences but has a bit to do from this mark and fitness to prove, Katenko probably needs a tsunami to hit Newbury in order to show his best, Our Father has a cracking record when fresh but a dodgy profile overall and it remains to be seen whether Highland Lodge can back up an encouraging reappearance at Wincanton.

Having backed Invictus at 15.014/1 it's nigh on impossible to now recommend backing him at 8.615/2, that would be akin to purchasing a whole load of knocked down crisps and then flogging them on to your good selves at full price. For all that Hadrian's Approach isn't a great deal bigger in the betting, currently trading at 11.010/1, he does make some appeal at that price, particularly as he is match-fit and could yet do better if brushing up on his jumping. 

The final two lines of Henley's Invictus are an apt way in which to conclude this piece, as they would be any betting article. The choice has been made to overlook the equine Invictus in favour of Hadrian's Approach but, should that decision prove foolhardy on Saturday, we only have ourselves to blame: 

              I am the master of my fate; 
              I am the captain of my soul.

Back Hadrians Approach in the Hennessy Gold Cup

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