The Hennessy Gold Cup was a gruelling race, as I expected, with only 9 of the 19 starters finishing (there were no fallers in the race - all the none-finishers pulled-up).
The pace set by the early leaders for much of the race was punishing, and those "in-the-van" (What A Warrior, Annacotty, and Le Reve) all failed to finish. The blog selection Midnight Prayer was also amongst the leading bunch of 4, and was the only one of them to finish - albeit in 9th and last place. When watching the race "live", my opinion was quickly made that the horse did not seem to be enjoying himself and he was working hard to maintain his position. Jockey Tom Bellamy pushed the horse for a final effort 4-out but (thankfully) on realising there was nothing left in the tank, he allowed the horse to canter home at his own pace. Trainer Alan King was positive about the run, and he seems of the opinion that the horse will be primed for a big race in the Welsh National NTO.
The race fav - Djakadam - was given every chance by his rider Ruby Walsh, but the horse had nothing left to give when push came to shove. The Hennessy Gold Cup is a tough race, the most competitive chase handicap in the calender in my opinion - even more competitive than the Grand National - and it is no race in which to discover a horses stamina. Djakadam had never run beyond 2m5f before Saturday and, while a 3-mile chase looks within his grasp, for me the jury is still out.
The requirement for stamina was most evident when you consider that 3 of the 1st-4 home were all proven, dour, staying chasers. In 4th, Monbeg Dude was never likely to win (unless one of only a handfull of finishers) off a rating of OR146, yet his stamina carried him from a poor position from half-a-mile out and into the places. He is capable of a better performance than this, but not much, and (even if he'd run equal to his best) would never have beaten the 3rd-placed Merry King.
It is through Merry King that I have rated the race. Last year, Merry King ran 5th behind Triolo D'Alene on "good" ground and I rated that at 132. His best performances are on soft/heavy ground and, as such, I reckon he's run up to his best form of 140. The horse finished 6-lengths behind Houblon Des Obeaux at Ascot in Nov'13 over 3-miles when in receipt of 7lb; and this race suggests that Houblon Des Obeaux has improved a few pounds. Merry King never runs a bad race, and he goes forever, but he lacks a "gear" when it matters - and just one win from 13 chase starts proves it. For me, he could be an ideal Grand National horse and could be the one to provide AP McCoy with the perfect excuse to retire on a high should he win that race next April.
Houblon Des Obeaux defied his 50/1 odds - which were surely an insult given he was 6th in last years Hennessey and that this years soft ground was clearly more favourable. What was more debateable was whether he could repeat his form of last season when racing right-handed. He's run 4 cracking races at Ascot over 3-mile - winning twice - and if he was able to repeat that form at Newbury (going left-handed) he was surely going to be in the mix. He'd won on his seasonal debut for the past couple of years so, coming for this on his first run since April, this was not an issue. As I've written already, Houblon Des Obeaux ran a career-best on Saturday and if soft ground was guaranteed at Cheltenham next March, he'd be on my Gold Cup shortlist. I have him achieving 160, and when he jumped the 2nd-last in front I didn't think he'd be passed as stamina is his strength.
Where does this leave Many Clouds? It was a very good effort to peg-back Houblon Des Obeaux on the run-in, even if that rival was conceding 6lbs. But it was not a 160+ performance (Racing Post Ratings have assessed it as RPR164). It has to be taken into account that he'd never won beyond 2m4f before, and he'd been easily beaten by Black Thunder at level weights as a novice chaser last November over 2m7f (with Shotgun Paddy in 3rd). With Merry King on 140, this puts Many Clouds on 157. By comparison, I rated Bobs Worth at 169 when he won the Hennessy Gold Cup in 2012 before taking the Gold Cup at Cheltenham - so (on that score) Many Clouds has a lot of improvement to make before he can enter the Gold Cup picture as a realistic candidate.
Even so, his half-brother The Tullow Tank, who is a novice chaser in Ireland, must surely have one of the Cheltenham Festival novice chase races as a target.
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Thursday, 4 December 2014
Hennessy Gold Cup review
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