It takes a lionhearted display of galloping to claim Hennessy glory and not too many better examples exist than that of the 2009 renewal when Denman took the plaudits for a second time. In only his second race back after recovering from heart trouble ‘The Tank’ served it up to his rivals whilst giving them in excess of a stone and a half in the handicap, bringing the house down, and several bookmakers to their knees in the process. Many a hardened racing fan stifled a tear with a glass of good cognac in the gloaming of that late November afternoon and would dearly love to see Denman outdo even Arkle, the near-mythical monolith of this sport and take this testing handicap for a third time.
Paul Nicholls’s redoubtable steeplechaser tops the betting for the race again this time tougher proposition. The truth will out in time but this year’s crop of second season chasers including Weird Al, Burton Port and Pandorama promised much in their rookie year and the 20 runner field in general is ultra competitive.
The issue of the handicap is also an interesting one with many horses not being assigned as light weights as it would seem. Due to Denman’s lofty rating there are only six horses in the handicap proper meaning that simply to get into the race all the other competitors are actually carrying more weight than their official handicap rating would normally dictate.
Under the Magnifying Glass
This year’s Hennessy is all about innocence and experience. Horses like Denman, Neptune Collonges and Madison du Berlais have been round the block a few times savouring the victories as well as the bitter taste of defeats, falls, injuries and undulating form. Will the weight of the years weigh too heavily upon their bones or is there enough determination left to wring another battling victory from their aged sinews? Cocking them an ironic eyebrow as they extinguish their fags ‘round the back of the stables are a crop of second season chasers very much on the up with only the odd defeat between them. These youngsters dominate the betting for the race at present and as a result there is plenty of scope for backing the right old stager at a working man’s price. A fascinating race lies ahead, these are my thoughts.
Cross these off your list
Barber’s Shop - consistently found wanting in big races and Baa Baa the Elephant (ridden by Jamie Spencer) would probably stand a better chance of winning this. Hills of Aran - hasn’t shown form anywhere near what is required here in his three runs so far this season. China Rock - having been beaten off level weights over three miles by Pandorama last year it’s difficult to see him reversing form here. Has performed with great credit so far this season, but surely this will be beyond him after a tough race last time out. Niche Market – placed in this last year but whilst others are on the upgrade this one seems to have been treading water for rather too long to threaten. The Tother One – recent form has been uninspiring and the handicapper looks to have his measure.
A Working Man's Price
Razor Royale – a dour stayer who took the Racing post trophy last season, has big race jockey of the moment Sam Twiston-Davies on board. Carruthers -finished thirty lengths behind Denman at Cheltenham but didn’t handle the track, has a pull in the weights supposedly worth about 20 lengths here and is 3/4 at Newbury where his liking for the track may see him improve on the level of his Gold Cup fourth. Neptune Collonges - seems Nicholls’ best chance on jockey bookings and his trainer can ready a horse to win after a long absence. Not too far away from Denman on his previous best performance off level weights and with a over a stone pull this time around 16/1 is good value about him being back to somewhere near that level. Madison du Berlais - loves Newbury and has won this race before, seemed to be on the downgrade in the latter part of last season but that will seem him run off a nice weight here.
The Young Pretenders
Diamond Harry - excellent record at the course but jumping was a problem throughout his first chasing season and not great value a 8/1. Weird Al - unbeaten over fences and should definitely see out the trip though all his wins have come in small fields, strong chance if unshaken by the large field but 5/1 doesn’t seem like value. Pandorama – another who is unbeaten over fences the main doubt is whether he will stay the trip. That said he’s beaten decent fields pulling a standard piano on heavy ground over the water and his defeat of Weapon’s Amnesty cannot fail to impress given that he went on to beat others in this field comprehensively. Receives weight from almost all. Burton Port - outperformed all expectations for Nicky Henderson last season and a big threat if continuing to improve. Seems to be held by Weird Al on a form line through Knockara Beau and not known for being at his best first time out.
The Nicholls contenders
Denman – not easily discounted but this is much harder than last year and there is far better value in this field. Taranis – Paul Nicholls readied him to win after a three year injury lay off beating Carruthers in the process. Previously looked on his way to being high class and having won every seasonal debut in his career clearly goes well fresh. This is tougher but could make the frame.
Pandorama, Weird Al, Denman and Carruthers are my four against the field. A Denman win is not inplausible (no doubt I'll probably stick a bluey on him out of sentimentality) but whilst it would make my day the preference is for PANDORAMA whose progressive profile and light weight should see him take this. Weird Al also has exceptional claims but shouldn’t be 3 points tighter in the betting than the selection whilst still improving Newbury lover Carruthers is stonking each way value at current prices.
As always only the best of luck with your selections, as long as they match mine x