Coneygree Top-Class – But Vyta to Roc at Newbury

The Ladbrokes Trophy Chase is Newbury’s feature on Saturday and has attracted a competitive field of 21.

First run at Cheltenham in 1957 and known as the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, the race has become one of the most eagerly anticipated in the National Hunt calendar and has a roll of honour to match the status with which it is held.

Chasing greats have captured the event, among them Mill House and Arkle in the 1960s. Diamond Edge, Bregawn, Brown Chamberlin and Burrough Hill Lad opened the 80s in style, whilst One Man in the 1990s and Denman in recent times added further lustre to this wonderful event.

It’ll likely take a while before we stop calling it the Hennessy, but it was Ladbrokes that took over as sponsors in February and the Ladbrokes Trophy has a decent ring to it.

As always, this year’s renewal has a hugely competitive look, with most of the field having a realistic chance of going close. The Willie Mullins-trained Total Recall heads most of the markets, though Harry Fry’s American is tussling for the honour of favouritism.

The former is an eight-year-old second-season chaser, and was impressive last time when romping to victory in the Munster National. He’s up 18lbs for that win, which seems quite a hike to overcome. This is a race that’s often won by those just out of the novice ranks, with seven-year-olds having a particularly strong record. As a novice chaser this fella was pretty ordinary at best. But Mullins took over training duties after the retirement of Sandra Hughes and there’s every chance that he has brought about plenty of improvement. Nevertheless, that patchy novice campaign along with a massive hike in the handicap is enough to make me look elsewhere.

American is interesting and was certainly more impressive as a novice. Three from three over fences, the seven-year-old has the right sort of profile and Fry sounds confident of a big performance. The horse is known to be fragile and as such has often run with plenty of juice in the ground. More rain would have been ideal, though the good to soft ground on Saturday should not inconvenience him. He’s a neat jumper and a strong traveller. Eight of the last 10 winners have carried more than 11 stone to victory and the 11-4 allotted to American shouldn’t put anyone off.

Singlefarmpayment is next best in the betting and the seven-year-old is another with the ideal profile. He’s only won once in six outings over fences, though has a trio of runner-up finishes. His performances at Cheltenham suggest he’ll have no issues with the 3m2f trip. His handicap mark looks fair for what he has achieved thus far. He’s a consistent sort that looks sure to be in the mix late-on, though I’m less sure he’s quite good enough to win.

Only four of the last 20 winners were successful at odds of more than 10/1, with the biggest price of those being Madison Du Berlais in 2008 at 25s. Reasonably well-fancied young progressive types are therefore the horses we need to focus on.

Nicky Henderson has a strong record in the race, with three wins from the past dozen renewals. He has a pair of fancied contenders in Whisper and Vyta Du Roc. The former was runner-up in the RSA and again chased home the talented Might Bite at the Aintree Festival. Despite being a nine-year-old he has only run six times over fences. He won his seasonal return over an inadequate trip at Kempton and is without doubt a classy contender. It’s a tall order winning this off a mark of 161, though he’s hard to dismiss.

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Vyta Du Roc was sixth last year and arrives off a 3lb lower mark. A solid performer last season without ever getting his head in front, his last success came at Ascot in February 2016 when defeating Minella Rocco. He’s a little one-paced but is on such an eye-catching handicap mark that I find myself drawn to him, like a moth to a flame. I’m sure he’ll go close.

Another leading trainer with a pair of contenders is ‘man of the moment’ Nigel Twiston-Davies. If Singlefarmpayment has a chance of winning, then so does his Cheltenham conqueror Cogry. The eight-year-old had four lengths to spare when they last met, with both likely to improve for the run. A one-time dodgy jumper, Cogry appears to have got his act together of late and was unlucky not to win the Scottish National back in April. He’ll love this trip and if Jamie Bargary can get him into a nice rhythm (as he did in the Scottish National) he could have a huge chance at a decent price.

The Cotswolds trainer also has Double Ross in the race. He was third in this 12 months ago and is a couple of pounds better off this time. A senior citizen at 11, there’s only been one previous winner at that age, and that was back in 1967. He was a 50/1 shot last year and I’d put no-one off having a few quid on him at his current price of 40s. Nige did the trick with Splash Of Ginge at big-odds just a few weeks back.

Though Mullins has the favourite, the Irish have a shocking recent record in the race. That’s a worry for the Noel Meade-trained A Genie in Abottle, though the six-year-old is probably not aware that he’s Irish. His third to Disko at Punchestown in April is strong form and he’s already had a couple of wins this term. He looks to be on a decent mark and will carry just 10-13, which I think is an attractive looking weight for such a talented horse. His one disappointing run came in the four-miler at Cheltenham when never looking likely to land a blow. He’ll have regular pilot Sean Flanagan back aboard tomorrow. First Lieutenant ran into a place for Gigginstown a couple of years back and this fella has every chance of going close.

Present Man is upped 4lbs for the Badger Ales victory and though Bryony Frost claims 5lbs this looks a much stiffer task for the seven-year-old. He should prefer Saturday’s conditions and at 16/1 is yet another with a decent each-way shout. Paul Nicholls has a good record in the race, thanks in the main to a Denman-Double. This fella has won half of his 10 chase starts and cannot be discounted.

Finally, a mention for the best horse in the race, Coneygree. What a story it would be if this fella was to emulate Diamond Edge in being a top-weight winning 10-year-old. Nico de Boinville is tasked with getting him into a rhythm. Should he be in front after the first circuit, few would dare bet against him. Incredibly talented, yet frustratingly fragile, Coneygree is the outstanding horse in this year’s field of 21. It’s a tall order, but who would be surprised if he pulled it off?

I find myself fancying four, but as greedy as I am I’ll only be punting on a pair. Whisper, American, Coneygree and Vyta Du Roc are the ‘Fab Four’, but my dosh will be going on the attractively handicapped Vyta and the outstanding chaser Coneygree.

Best of luck to those having a crack at this competitive renewal.

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