Saphir Du Rheu is the new favourite for the Hennessy Gold Cup after the defection of Coneygree but Bobs Worth is the springer in the market. That horse is weighted to win the race for the second time but Fingal Bay looks a decent each-way alternative at a working man’s price. About 20 horses should go to post for the most prestigious handicap chase of the first half of the season.
The Hennessy Gold Cup is a Grade 3 race for which horses aged four and older are eligible. Newbury is its regular home and the distance of the contest is 3 miles and 2 and a half furlongs. There are 22 fences to be negotiated in a race that often provides pointers for future Grand Nationals and Cheltenham Gold Cups. It is often the highest class handicap chase of the season based on the ratings of former winners.
Three horses have won the race two times, Mandarin and Arkle in the 1950’s and 1960’s and Denman eight and six years ago. That horse’s weight carrying effort was one of the best seen on a British racecourse. The best horses often prove themselves in handicap company when they give weight to all their rivals but still win like a champion. Coneygree was set a demanding task by the handicapper but does not run.
Willie Robinson rode three Hennessy winners in the 1960s and Fulke Walwyn trained seven winners which is a record. His wins spanned 24 years which is also a record for one of the most competitive races of the jumps season. Potential winners must combine stamina, jumping ability and a touch of class. Horses high in the weights have a good record and there is rarely a big priced winner. Second season novices have also done well and that trend brings Saphir De Rheu into the mix.
Possibly the best achievement in the history of race came in the most recent renewal. Many Clouds won last year’s Hennessy and Grand National and is the first horse to achieve that double. Eight winners also won one or more Cheltenham Gold Cups, most recently Bobs Worth three years ago in the season he also won the Gold Cup. Only two 10 year-olds and one aged 11 have won the race and the youngest winners have been six.
Saphir De Rheu is a six year old but his owner, Andy Stewart, thinks the absence of Coneygree will benefit Bobs Worth more. He said in the Racing Post this week:
“Paul Nicholls would tell you it doesn’t matter, but the weights are going up 9lb, which I think helps the Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth, who I was very impressed with on his return after having gone through a difficult patch. Nicky Henderson seems to have got both Sprinter Scare and Bobs Worth organised, so he’s on a bit of a roll. Smad Place was beaten only four lengths by Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle and Stewart also likes his chances.”
Maybe out of superstition Stewart is talking down the prospects of Saphir De Rheu. He failed to complete when twice pitted against Coneygree so the current Gold Cup winner’s absence must be a positive development. Paul Kealy, the betting editor of the Post, is not convinced Saphir De Rheu is a good thing. He said in the paper:
“Saphir De Rheu won’t be facing anything running from out of the weights so it’s easy enough to argue his task has become harder. However, he was a high-class hurdler and doesn’t seem to have any jumping issues” The same could be said for Bobs Worth.
That horse is the last to win the Hennessy and Gold Cup and looked almost back to his best in beating Simonsig over hurdles at Aintree last month. Coneygree’s absence increases the pressure on Saphir De Rheu and he is yet to deliver when it comes to jumping and travelling at a high speed. However, he is a potential Gold Cup winner and none of the opposition are now good enough to compete at that level. Bobs Worth is proven over course and distance and in the Gold Cup so is the best alternative to the favourite.