Matt Tombs / Wednesday 28th November 2012 / 16:55
1pt Duke of Lucca to win the Hennessy @ 20/1
For anyone thinking about placing a bet on the Hennessy during the week, the first consideration is the state of the ground. It’s currently soft, heavy in places and the forecast is for light frosts but no rain in the run up to the race. Everyone is saying the ground will be bottomless, but I’m not so sure. Of course it’s going to be softish, as courses don’t dry quickly at this time of year, but a dry week could lead to the official (or actual) going containing the word ‘good’. Diamond Harry nearly broke the course record on ground officially described as good to soft in 2010.
The market looks to be priced up on the basis it’ll be a bog like the last two weekends - and the value might be to assume it’ll ride better than predicted. If it’s not too bad, then the Hennessy is usually won by a horse that has showed plenty of speed over hurdles. Some, like Denman, Diamond Harry and What’s Up Boys had won or been placed at the Festival over about two and a half miles. Others like State of Play, Trablogan and Madison Du Berlais didn’t run in big hurdle races but none ran beyond 2m4f.
Bobs Worth (4/1) has been favourite since ante-post markets opened. He was one of the best of last season’s vintage novice crop, but there are plenty of negatives. Firstly, he’s rated 160, which is only 1lb lower than the mighty Denman won this off after his RSA win. Good horse though he is, he’s never looked in Denman’s class. Secondly, his RSA win doesn’t look so good now - First Lieutenant has been beaten in all 3 races since and Call The Police was blown away by Hidden Cyclone on Saturday. It might be the RSA was an ordinary race in a strong season for novices. Finally, whilst it might be that going left handed is the key to him, he could be a Cheltenham specialist and I wouldn’t be surprised if, like Long Run, he’s not cherry ripe for his first run of the season.
Hold On Julio (7/1) was a revelation when joining Alan King last season, bolting up at Sandown off 133, despite jumping averagely. He had an interrupted preparation for the Festival so it wasn’t surprising he wasn’t competitive there, and he had a nice pipe opener at Cheltenham’s October meeting. He’s 15lb higher than his last win and whilst he’s the type to continue to improve, I wonder if his jumping will be good enough to hold a position in this competitive field. His price looks fair and if I had to back one at the front of the market it’d probably be him.
Tidal Bay (8/1) has to shoulder top weight off 166. Paul Nicholls has been brilliant at sweetening up the old rogue but this would require a Denmanesque performance to win this rising 12. The key to him looks to be really soft ground, which would enable him to hold a position. Unless the ground is really bad, I can see him getting out of contention early and I want to take him on at this stage.
The Package (9/1) was a good winner of the Badger Chase off 139 at Wincanton from Michel Le Bon, the pair well clear. He’s up 8lb for that but that doesn’t look harsh if you think Michel Le Bon is a good horse. It might be that the opposition at Wincanton wasn’t great and in some cases badly in need of the run. He still looks to be improving rising 10 but his price is about right given the Grand National rather than this might be his priority.
Frisco Depot (10/1) was a good novice in Ireland last season when highly tried against Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs. He was running a fine race when coming down two out at Ascot and has been dropped 2lb to 141. However, with Sam Waley-Cohen’s claim that’s 9-10 so he’s likely to carry some overweight. The horse was bought for the Grand National and having tipped up in 2 of his last 3 races I wonder if a clear round and a good experience will be the priority here.
First Lieutenant (14/1) bombed behind Sizing Europe when well fancied at Gowran in October and then ran a fair race in a weak Grade 1 at Down Royal. Whilst he has the right sort of profile for this he does look much better on quick ground and he’s not going to get that here. 159 doesn’t look an obviously good handicap mark and he’s not a certain runner so I’m opposing him again.
Magnanimity has been well backed into 12/1. He had a bit of a return to form when finishing 2nd to Roi Du Mee and then Sizing Europe this autumn but he was beaten miles by the latter and needs to improve a lot to figure here. Dessie Hughes’ yard is going great guns and someone thinks they know something but I’m struggling to make the case for him. Something similar happened with Carruthers last year though and if he really is back to his best then he’s got sound claims off 10-3.
The other well backed outsider is Teaforthree (16/1) who won the 4 miler this year. He obviously stays well but his trainer says this is his prep run for the Welsh National which looks a more suitable target. He’s one to consider near race time if conditions are appalling.
The joker in the pack is Diamond Harry (25/1) who’s potentially chucked in off 143 (13lb lower than his winning mark 2 years ago). He’s been pulled up 3 times in a row though and is regularly ruled out on the morning of his intended races as he’s so fragile. I’m going to wait until it’s non runner, no bet – and look at his price then.
The two I like at this stage though are two of last season’s novices, Duke of Lucca and Alfie Spinner, who were 2nd and 3rd to Roberto Goldback at Ascot in early November. For both that looked an ideal run to blow the cobwebs away so they should be perfectly primed for this.
Duke of Lucca (20/1) was a classy enough novice hurdler to get within 2l of Peddlers Cross in a Grade 2 at Aintree and 2¾l of Reve De Sivola in a Grade 1 at Punchestown, both at around 2½ miles. He got plenty of experience in an 8 race novice chase campaign and gets in off 144, (10-4). He has the ideal blend of speed and stamina and he jumps much better now, having been a slow learner. If I knew the ground wasn’t going to be too bad he’d be a confident selection at the prices. Richard Johnson said on Tuesday the plan was to chance the ground and run, and on ordinary soft ground I think he’ll be effective as it was pretty testing when he won at Cheltenham in April.
There are no such concerns for Alfie Spinner (14/1) who looks versatile as to ground conditions but acts well on heavy. He was campaigned at a lower level over hurdles between two and two and a half miles, but was good enough to be a close 4th off 122 in the EBF final at Sandown. He had 6 runs as a novice chaser, all at 3m or further. The eye catching piece of form is where he split Bob’s Worth and Silviniaco Conti in the Reynoldstown, (receiving 7lb from both.) It’s well documented that neither were at their best that day but he’ll get 20lb from Bob’s Worth here and even 2lb out of the handicap proper he looks on a good mark, (runs off 140).
It’s a close call but the fancy prices on Alfie Spinner have gone and I’m siding with Duke of Lucca as he’s the classier type and Phillip Hobbs expected him to come on a lot for the run at Ascot. The yard is just hitting top gear (3 winners on Monday and another on Tuesday) and this step up in trip is just what he needs. For those wanting a genuine soft ground horse then Alfie Spinner would be the call.