Hennessy Gold Cup to provide more Grand National clues
The ultra competitive Grade 3 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on November 29, one of the most coveted staying chases of the National Hunt season, looks certain to provide some significant pointers to the relative merits of a number of possible 2015 Crabbie’s Grand National contenders, writes Elliot Slater.
Among the key contenders for the three-and-a-quarter-mile race will be Paul Nicholls’ Rocky Creek, runner-up in the contest 12 months ago when he found only Nicky Henderson’s Triolo D’Alene too good for him. Last year’s winner could also contest the race once again and the re-match looks sure to command plenty of attention. Both horses went on to run at Aintree in April in “the world’s greatest steeplechase”, Rocky Creek running an absolute cracker to finish a brave fifth of the 40 runners behind Pineau De Re, leading at the 18th of the 30 fences until headed at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit four fences later.
He remained in touch with the action, forging back through to lead again at the fourth last, giving connections a few brief moments to dream of winning the £1 million showcase contest, until headed at the penultimate fence and only able to keep on at one pace on the long run-in from the final fence. Nonetheless, Noel Fehily’s mount gave a very good account of himself, and having already finished second in Grade 1 company at Down Royal earlier this campaign, is a genuine contender for honours back at Aintree in the spring.
Bookmakers currently rate Rocky Creek a top priced 33/1 shot, but those odds may well dry up fast should Nicholls’ stayer put up another big effort at Newbury. Triolo D’Alene was strongly fancied for honours at Aintree last season having won the Hennessy Gold Cup in grand fashion five months earlier. A fragile horse who doesn’t stand too much racing, he didn’t run again after his big win until appearing at the Cheltenham Festival in March where he faded from the home turn to finish 10th behind Lord Windermere in the Gold Cup.
Triolo D’Alene - Photo: Carine06
Henderson’s talented performer ran in the Grand National only three weeks after Cheltenham, and the 14/1 shot appeared to be feeling the effects of his Gold Cup efforts, running well enough for the first half of the four-and-a-half-mile contest until fading quickly and being tailed off when he was pulled up before Becher’s Brook second time around.
Off an 8lb higher mark it’s asking a lot of last eyras winner to follow up at Newbury, but if his particularly shrewd handler decides to tailor his subsequent training programme towards another bid for the Grand National (for which he is offered at 50/1), Triolo D’Alene would certainly be a contender, especially if arriving at the race following a decent break.
Hadrian’s Approach, who ended last term by proving his stamina to land the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park in April, is another possible Hennessy contender for Nicky Henderson and another horse who may also have a date on Merseyside in the spring. Set to make his seasonal reappearance at Newbury and run off a mark 7lbs higher than when beating the grand old stager Burton Port over three-and-three-quarter-miles at Sandown at the back end of last term, Hadrian’s Approach is reported in good heart and in previous seasons has been perfectly capable of running well first-time out.
A good effort on his debut outing this campaign would certainly augur well for the rest of the term and would likely see his 40/1 ante-post odds odds on the big horse race that is the Grand National significantly trimmed. Hadrian’s Approach certainly shapes like a horse that might very well be suited by Aintree. He appears these days to be a thorough stayer, but he does have a touch of class about him and is generally a better jumper these days than earlier in his career when he was noted for being a shade clumsy.
That said he got no further than the fifth fence in last season’s Hennessy Gold Cup where he blundered and unseated the hapless Nico de Boinville. Connections will be hoping for better luck this time around.
Above right: Hadrian’s Approach
If the recent brave Grade 3 Murphy Group Chase winner Sam Winner takes his chance at Newbury then he would have to be respected and is looking more and more as though he has what it takes to go well over the unique challenge of Aintree racecourse, Currently a 33/1 shot, he may bid to give Paul Nicholls his second National in four renewals following the last-gasp 33/1 success of the gallant grey Neptune Collonges in 2012.
Another interesting contender at Newbury is Oliver Sherwood’s Many Clouds, a classy three-mile performer, who may even make it to Gold Cup standard and who, should he be allowed to take his chance at Aintree (50/1), would be another fascinating contender.