Djakadam Could Turn the Hennessey into a Procession
Fingal Bay is trained by Phillip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson. That combination in itself should be a tip for The Hennessey Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday. However, Djakadam could be a handicap snip and Willie Mullins doesn’t bring his horses from Ireland to England for a trip on the ferry. Rocky Creek would enhance his prospects for the Grand National in one of the major handicap chases of the season.
Newbury also stages the first major stayer’s hurdle of the calendar in a race in which last year’s champion, More Of That, runs for the first time this season. At Fishers Cross was solid but unspectacular last season and at his best could run More Of That to a couple of lengths. Meanwhile, at Newcastle in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle Irving is looking to get his season back on track after falling in his last race. In conclusion Saturday will be a brilliant day of jumping when races will have implications for the Cheltenham Festival and National.
The Hennessey is one of the longest standing sponsorships in British racing. It is one of those races that is colloquially known by the name of the sponsor, like the Whitbread even though that race is now sponsored by bet365. After Tidal Bay was brought down in the Grand National in April his trainer Paul Nicholls said the horse may be kept in training to run in the Whitbread, not the bet365. That must be galling for the sponsors and even if backed by another company Saturday’s race will always be known as the Hennessey.
The Newbury race is run over three miles two and a half furlongs and is a handicap chase open to four year olds and older. The youngest winner was aged six, an interesting fact in the context of the chances for Djakadam as that horse is only five. There are 21 fences jumped in the race that was first run at Cheltenham in 1957 before moving to Newbury three years later. The race is traditionally run on the last Saturday in November.
Mandarin (1957 and 1961), Arkle (1964 and 1965) and Denman (2007 and 2009) are the only horses to have won the race two times. Willie Robinson is the only jockey to have won the race three times and Fulke Walwyn is the winning most trainer with seven wins in the race. Tony McCoy and Richard Johnson are the most successful jockeys of the current generation but neither have won a Hennessey while Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty have both won the race twice, the latter in the last two years.
Diamond Edge was10 when winning the race in 1981 but since then the winner has been aged between six and nine. Only five of those winners have been aged six which indicates it is a tough race for relatively inexperienced chasers though Triolo D’Alene won the race from that age group in 2013. Over the last three years from 2011 onwards the winner has been eight, seven and six which means the sequence will be maintained if Djakadam is first on Saturday.
In 2007 and 2009 Denman carried 11 stone twelve pounds which represented two of the best weight carrying performances of the modern era. Bobs Worth carried six pounds less when winning two years ago and ended the season unbeaten and won the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Since 1980 no horse has won the Hennessey and Grand National in the same season.
Djakadam has been backed ahead of this year’s Hennessey despite coming from the age group that has never won the race and is unproven over the distance. However, Mullins thinks the horse can overcome these handicaps and on past form could still be ahead of the handicapper. The horse last raced in a novice chase at Cheltenham in Match when looking all over the winner before falling at the fourth last fence.
As Alistair Down succulently commented you could write a book the length of War And Peace about what can happen from the fourth last to the winning line in a race at the Cheltenham Festival. Djakadam is unproven beyond two miles five furlongs but the trainer believes he will stay and jumping should not be an issue. However, all the pundits believe it was too early to say what might have happened at Cheltenham. Mullins reports of the horse: “All his well with him and he’s set for action”.
Paul Nicholls is now leading in the trainer’s championship after winning the major races of the last two Saturday’s. Caid Du Berlais won the Paddy Power and Silviniaco Conti won the Betfair Chase. These two wins were supplemented by success for Sam Winner and Al Ferof in supporting races over the last two weekends. Rocky Creek could keep the run going but his main target is the National in April.
Nichols trained Denman and also String Flow in 2003 and won the National with Neptune Colognes in 2012. He was leading trainer for seven years before Nicky Henderson won the title last season. Nicholls was fortunate to have Denman, Kauto Star, Big Bucks and Master Minded in his care at the same time but is now trying to rebuild a successful stable with a new generation.
Rocky Creek could be part of that process and would give the stable a huge boost if winning the National. The horse was fifth in this year’s renewal so clearly relished the unique fences and distance. The National is a handicap which means Rocky Creek could be weighted out of contention so his allocation will be vital in the context of being competitive.
Before Nichols started beginning the big November races Philip Hobbs was the leading jumps trainer. Wishful Thinking and Menorah have won valuable races for the trainer and Fingal Bay is a typical Hennessey contender. He was one of the leading novice chasers of last season and was a classy hurdler. However, if Djakadam is a potential superstar he could turn the Hennessey into a procession.