Hennessy Gold Cup day at Newbury today brings together 20 hopefuls vying for the first prize of £113,900, for once on perfect jumping ground.
This is the last year the race will be so designated, as the sponsors have packed it in after 60 memorable years, although to we aficionados it will be known as ‘The Hennessy’ for evermore.
Last year’s hero Smad Place tries to repeat the dose, but with top weight and 11lbs higher in the ratings this is surely a step too far.
Favourite in all the books is the Colin Tizzard trained Native River, which bids to supply Richard Johnson with his first ever win in this race at the 93rd attempt (might be slightly less than that, in truth). This 6-y-o is, amazingly, making its handicap debut, having solely contested Graded or Listed events throughout its 15 race career, but, off 155, is hardly thrown in and looks meagre value at 6-1 in a race of this nature.
Indeed, this Indian River gelding is poorly weighted compared with others it has met over the past two seasons and is one for the Spanish Archer at that price.
The Nicky Henderson trained Vyta Du Roc ticks all the boxes for today and should be backed e/w @ 8-1. A second season chaser (excellent record in this race), Vyta won the Reynoldstown at Ascot in February, beating Minella Rocco in the process, before finishing 5th in the RSA at the Festival and occupying a similar position in the Scottish Grand National. Aimed at this race ever since, the French-bred had a tune up over hurdles at the beginning of this month and arrives here in peak condition. A handicap mark of 143 is, to say the least, workable, the stable could hardly be in better nick and in Tom O’Brien you have a reliable and capable pilot having one of his best seasons.
What’s not to like??
Our other ‘V’ selection is the Paul Nicholls’ trained Vicente, available for your pound at a juicy 20-1. Slightly under the radar compared with the higher profile participants, this 7-y-o ended last season in a blaze of glory by triumphing in the Scottish Grand National and is just 5lbs higher today. Before that, this horse may well have won the National Hunt Chase at the Festival but for being badly hampered by a loose horse two from home, finally finishing 5th. The aforementioned Native River was second in that race, which was won by the also aforementioned Minella Rocco and a line through that horse is the basis of our two picks.
Let’s hope we can enjoy a cognac or three by 3.20pm.