Matt Tombs / Thursday 28th November 2013 / 13:00
1pt Prince De Beauchene to win the Hennessy at 16/1
Last week provided what might be the race of the winter with a fabulous Betfair Chase. The downside is that we now have a Hennessy that really lacks class as all the top staying chasers in Britain ran last week. The ground is currently good to soft and with no material rain forecast, we could see good ground on Sunday.
The last four top weights have run off 166, 168, 182 and 174. That’s meant to be in the handicap proper a horse has need a rating of between 140 and 156. This year the top weight is Cape Tribulation (158) meaning that any horse rated 132 gets in the handicap proper. That’s a totally different sort of race to the Denman renewals - a lower grade handicapper has a chance. Johns Spirit won the Paddy Power off 139 (10-2) and there’s the chance for an even lower rated horse here. The irony is that there are only two horses left in rated under 140, (Loch Ba (133) and Whodoyouthink (132)).
In the last couple of seasons the bigger yards have dominated the big autumn races. Of the 16 races in Britain worth more than £30,000 to the winner last autumn, that had been run by this stage, 7 were won by Paul Nicholls (4) and Nicky Henderson (3) with Nicky then adding the Hennessy with Bobs Worth. This time those 16 races have fallen to 13 different trainers and the big two have only won 1 each.
With nine winners in the last fortnight, there’s clearly nothing wrong with the health of Nicholls’ string. However, he’s explained that he’s never known a season like it for getting condition off horses. Plenty of his are coming on hugely for the run and that has to be a concern for Rocky Creek (8/1) who has been beaten on both seasonal reappearances. He was reported to have blown up twice when beaten by Harry Topper on his seasonal debut last season. It seems he was trained last spring with this race in mind and with Nicholls not seeing him as quick enough for a Gold Cup, I’d expected him to be hard trained for this as his main target of the whole season - and I’d fancied him. The ground has gone against him a bit now and with a question mark over his ability fresh, the value’s gone.
With ten winners in the last fortnight you could hardly call Nicky Henderson out of form, but his big guns haven’t been firing. Nicky’s horses often come on for a run early season whilst horses from other yards go well fresh - so if other yards are behind, it might be Nicky’s really need the run. He runs Hadrian's Approach (12/1) who’s just 1/7 over fences but was a fair 7¾l 3rd in the RSA to Lord Windermere and is now 9lb better off. He has what could be the crucial advantage of a run where he was chinned by a potential improver of Paul Nicholls, (Bury Parade) with 9l back to Theatre Guide who’s now 4lb better off. That’s the classic sort of form that looks disappointing initially but may look smart by the end of the season. All that said, I just don’t think he jumps well enough to win a Hennessy.
Invictus (10/1) is a horse I was following closely as a novice two seasons ago. He was 3/4 with the only defeat coming when wrenching a shoe off. His well touted piece of form was beating Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti (who both gave 3lb), 3l and 10l respectively in the Reynoldstown. It’s hard to assess the form as Nicky Henderson was then on the point of roughing off Bobs Worth for the season and Silviniaco Conti’s stable was out of form at the time (he stopped quickly.) It may be better to rate the form via 3rd home Alfie Spinner (who Invictus gave 4lb and was beaten 5¾l.) In 8 races since, the only time he’s got within 10l of the winner was when 5l 2nd recently off 126. On that basis he doesn’t look so chucked in off a mark of 145.
Alan King said a month ago “He’s a big heavy horse so we’re upping the work now. The Hennessy has been mooted but ideally he’d have a run first”. He’s more recently described his price as absurd and it wouldn’t surprise me if this run was needed after 21 months off. The stable had been in great form this autumn but is now on a run of 21 consecutive losers including a 1/8 shot – my confidence is ebbing away.
Our Father (10/1) is the epitome of a horse that needs to be fresh. He’s had 3 runs in each of his 3 seasons, winning on debut each time and disappointing afterwards. At the time he looked really impressive when bolting up by 20l on his chasing debut at Cheltenham. However the 2nd home, (who was giving 8lb) is now running in cross-country races and the 3rd was frustrating until nearly a year later. Whilst this is clearly the time to catch him, I’m not convinced he’s well in off 147.
Lord Windermere (10/1) was in some ways a lucky winner of the RSA as Boston Bob looked the likely winner until coming down at the last. However Lord Windermere stumbled when short of room approaching the home bend, so might be value for more than the winning distance. He’s off 154 here, which compares to recent RSA winners who’ve followed up in Denman (161), Bobs Worth (160) and Trabolgan (151), although Albertas Run (155), One Knight (152) and Hussard Collonges (154) all failed to complete that double. He’s reported to be in good form but his small yard hasn’t had a winner since August and he took 3 runs to break his maiden last season so its questionable how well he goes fresh. Robbie McNamara is a capable amateur but that’s very different from having Davy Russell on board.
Highland Lodge (12/1) was a promising staying novice last season beating Our Father (who gave 3lb) 22l at Cheltenham in December, (extended 3m1f, heavy). He was disappointing after that but the yard were seriously out of form and he bounced back with an excellent 2nd off 136 at Wincanton, (extended 3m3f, good.) The pair were miles clear and the winner, Standing Ovation, followed up off a 10lb higher mark. Despite that run, he’s better on softer ground and I would have been sweet on his chances if it had come up testing. He’s one of the more likely winners.
Katenko (14/1) looked a really good horse in bad ground last winter, beating Johns Spirit 9l over an extended 3m at Sandown (soft) off 136, and Fruity O'Rooney by 12l over 2m5f at Cheltenham, (heavy) off 147. He’s up another 10lb but Venetia Williams was talking about the Gold Cup after that and he could be handicapped to win this. The big concern is the ground. Since his debut 9th of 12 on the flat 4 years ago, the fastest official ground he’s run on is soft. He missed the Paddy Power due to the going and whilst he may cope with quicker ground over a longer trip, it is a worry.
The only recent handicap winner is Houblon Des Obeaux (16/1) who looks the classic sort who might now be handicapped out of this after his impressive win at Ascot, (3m, good to soft). He’s up 10lb to 154, which looks too high. His two wins were obtained by 10 Nov last year and his form gently tailed off afterwards.
Given he’s 1/6 over fences and that win was off a 20lb lower mark, it might sound odd to suggest Merry King (12/1) looks well handicapped off 140. He hasn’t gone well fresh in the past so it was a good run when 2nd in Houblon Des Obeaux’s Ascot race and, 7lb better off for 6l, could be fancied to turn the form round. There looks plenty to more to come and he has to be on the shortlist.
Of the outsiders I like Theatre Guide (25/1) from Colin Tizzard’s stable, another whose inmates have often badly needed their first run. Cue Card looked a different horse, similarly stepped up in trip, on his 2nd run of the season on Saturday and I could see something similar happening with Theatre Guide who looked to have put his jumping problems behind him last time and looks a big price.
The one to be on though is Prince De Beauchene (16/1) who has been described as Cheltenham Gold Cup class by Mullins in the past. He was only a fair 3rd in the Grade 1 at Down Royal to Roi Du Mee, but that might well have been needed to put him spot on for this. He’s had a frustrating couple of seasons with minor injuries, (favourite for the National both years only to miss the race,) but if he’s primed for this then he’s the class act in the race. He’s 10 now and so there’s every reason to think he’ll be hard trained for this rather than with the future in mind – and connections could have run the well handicapped On His Own instead, which suggests Prince De Beauchene is in peak form. If he’s anywhere near Gold Cup class as Willie thinks he ought to be winning a weak Hennessy off 155 with Ruby’s assistance.