Matt Tombs / Wednesday 26th November 2014 / 11:10
Like the Paddy Power Gold Cup, the Hennessy has been a great race for unexposed second season chasers. Of the 14 renewals this century 9 have been won on the day by second season chasers, (though Be My Royal was disqualified on a technicality subsequently,) and 1 by a novice. It’s rarely a race for ordinary handicappers.
Of the 4 more experienced winners, one was the mighty Denman who won off 174. The others tend to be horses that were top class prospects, (eg as novice hurdlers or novice chasers,) but had had minor problems and so hadn’t had the chance to show it yet.
One criteria that’s important this year is the ground. The Hennessy is often run on a sound surface, (as has happened in the last 5 renewals.) However, it’s currently soft, heavy in places, (16.5mm of rain in the last 24 hours.) It’s not predicted to get much, if any, quicker – genuinely soft ground looks likely.
That sort of going makes for a proper test of stamina over 3m2½f. Five renewals this century have been run on testing ground. In 2000 ill-fated mudlark King’s Road won on heavy ground. The following year, subsequent National runner-up What’s Up Boys won on soft ground. In 2006, State Of Play, who was subsequently placed 3 times in the National, won on soft. In 2007 Denman bulldozed the field on soft ground. (The following year it was good to soft, but holding ground, when Madison Du Berlais won.)
Normally a Hennessy winner tends to have lots of speed at the trip, (many had won graded races over hurdles at around 2½m). That sort of pace will still be important but stamina will be a bigger factor than usual in the ground.
Willie Mullins has pointed out that he has unfinished business with the race after the Be My Royal debacle and Djakadam (9/2) is clearly very highly regarded. His form is hard to weigh up. He won a couple of decent novice chases getting a big weight-for-age allowance last season and then fell 4 out in the JLT when travelling well enough. Absurdly, he gets a 5lb weight-for-age allowance here and so gets in off 142. Given he’s being trained as a potential Gold Cup horse that implies he’s chucked in. He’s only had 3 chases but five winners this century had had only 3 or 4 runs.
I wouldn’t be laying him, but I can’t back him at that sort of price as I’ve little idea of what he’s capable of from his actual form, he fell last time, he’s inclined to be keen and he hasn’t yet run over further than 2m5f. Also, for all Willie Mullins dominance in some divisions, he hasn’t had a handicap chase winner in Britain since Hedgehunter won the National nearly a decade ago.
Many Clouds (7/1) was put up by Pricewise and he’s looked a good horse when there’s cut in the ground. He took advantage of the 6lb he got from the classy Eduard to win at Carlisle, (2m4f, soft.) He’s always been seen as a stayer but he’s a half brother to The Tullow Tank and his actual record over fences is 3/3 at around 2m4f and 0/4 over 2m7f+. He’s up 7lb to 151 for his Carlisle win and the value looks to have gone now.
Alan King said Smad Place’s (7/1) whole season would be built round the Hennessy. The RSA runner-up is off 155 here and you can see King’s logic – he looks a real stayer and this should suit him more than 3m conditions events. He’ll be primed for this and has a decent chance but I’m not sure how strong the RSA form is, and his handicap mark might be about right. Drying ground would aid his chance.
Fingal Bay (8/1) came back from injury last season to beat Southfield Theatre, (who received 1lb,) a nose in the Pertemps Final off 148, before a solid 7¼l 5th in the Grade 1 3m hurdle at Punchestown. He’s in off 153 but hasn’t run over fences for 2 years, (ran out on his last chase run and might remember that,) and it’d be a brilliant training performance from the in-form Philip Hobbs if he wins.
Rocky Creek (10/1) has a big reputation in Paul Nicholls yard, (given Kauto Star’s box,) which he hasn’t quite delivered yet – the vibes are that he was never quite right last season. He was well fancied for this then off 151 and ran a good race to be 2¾l 2nd to Triolo D’Alene. He didn’t look to stay when 5th in the National but that’s an extreme test of stamina now. It’s hard to know what to make of his comeback run when 11l 2nd to Road To Riches at Down Royal as so many of the runners looked to need the run. Like Silviniaco Conti, that should have put him spot on and he has sound claims off 156, with soft ground suiting well.
Much further down the handicap The Druid’s Nephew (14/1) is officially 6lb well in off 141. That’s a result of a good 1½l 2nd to Sam Winner in a handicap at Cheltenham at the Open meeting. I doubt whether he quite has the class to win a Hennessy.
Merry King (20/1) is another horse who’s starting to look a bit exposed to be winning a Hennessy. He’d looked a cracking prospect for handicaps at the start of last season but doesn’t seem as good as I thought he was. Jonjo’s yard looks a bit out of sorts and I’m opposing him.
Another top yard not yet firing on all cylinders is Nicky Henderson’s. Hadrian’s Approach (20/1) is similar to Merry King in that he’d looked nicely handicapped at the start of last season. He won the Bet365 over 3m5f at Sandown at the end of last season and is now 7lb higher, off 153. I can’t see him being good enough for a Hennessy off that sort of mark.
Black Thunder (20/1) is an interesting horse. He had really good form in staying novice events last winter, beating Many Clouds, (although he’s now 4lb worse off for 2¼l), and Shotgun Paddy, before a good 2nd to Corrin Wood. He came down too early in the RSA to speculate how he’d have fared but after a pipe-opener at Newton Abbot, he was a good ½l 2nd to What A Warrior (25/1) at Ascot off 149. What A Warrior is up 7lb and Black Thunder is up 6lb. They’re both progressive types but may have shown their hands already to the handicapper,
Annacotty (25/1) is a hard horse to weigh up. He won a poor renewal of the Feltham, before a good 2nd to Indian Castle in a handicap off 144. His run in the RSA is best ignored as he and Corrin Wood cut each other’s throats up front. He returned in a Kempton graduation chase where, with the blinkers left off, he ran a solid 5l 3rd to dead heaters Theatre Guide and Fox Appeal, over an inadequate 2½m. Normally a Feltham winner would look well in off 146 and with all the doubts about his form he could be underestimated in the market. As usual there are plenty who like to be up with the pace and I’d be concerned he’d do too much too early again. He might be one for in-running punters.
This year’s Hennessy is tricky as the vibes for Djakadam are so strong, but it’s just totally against my betting style to back a horse on hype, with all those question marks, at a short price.
A more solid option is Rocky Creek. Paul Nicholls struggled to get him fit for this last year and he’s had a run to blow away the cobwebs this time. He likes soft ground and if he’s the Grade 1 horse the Ditcheat team think he is, he’s well handicapped. With Nicholls having won the big race for the last 2 weekends and being so bullish about Rocky Creek, I can see the price contracting during the week, so I’m taking the plunge now.
1pt Rocky Creek to win the Hennessy @ 10/1