Hennessy Gold Cup Chase 2015: Preview, Trends, Tips
Newbury's Hennessy Gold Cup Chase is one of the biggest races of the National Hunt season, and probably the second biggest handicap of the jumps calendar after the Grand National.
It is a race where winners usually need all of stamina, speed and class to prevail, and where weight-carrying heroics are commonplace. As we'll see when we look at the Hennessy Gold Cup trends.
Hennessy Gold Cup Trends 2015
Good ol' horseracebase.com now has eighteen years of data from which to infer. While that might be too much in some races, a heat like the Hennessy has changed little in the past two decades, so we'll use the full dataset available. Let's start, as I just alluded, with weight:
Hennessy Weight Trends: Classy horses win this race, with class often characterized by a sizeable weight allocation. Since 1997, the winner carried 11-04 or more on eight occasions; between 10-06 and 11-03 on five occasions; and 10-05 or less on five occasions. But the win strike rates for those groups were, respectively, 13.56%, 3.73%, and 4.06%. In other words, the higher weighted horses won more often from many less runners (59 vs 134 vs 123).
That somewhat arbitrary split between the three weight brackets was based on an approximate division of the weights range into thirds.
Looking at the place rates reveals a similar pattern: the lowest weighted horses placed 13.82% of the time; the middle weight band placed 21.64% of the time; and those classy beasts at the top of the handicap hit the frame 35.59% of the time.
Hennessy Age Trends: It is often said that the best type with which to side in the Newbury showpiece is a young upwardly mobile horse. This makes sense - after all, younger sorts are less likely to have hit their ability ceiling and are thus more likely to be able to step forward on what they've already shown.
The data back this up. Those aged seven or younger have won thirteen of the last eighteen Hennessy Gold Cups (72%) from 48% of the runners. Moreover, considering both win and placed horses, those young bucks bagged 69% of the each way positions too, from - obviously - the same 48% of runners.
Indeed, simply backing those Hennessy horses aged seven or younger and carrying 11-04 or more since 1997 would have returned a profit at SP of 36.5 points to level stakes.
Backing the 28 qualifiers each way would have bolstered the return to 65.62 points, albeit from twice the investment (win and place stakes).
The sole qualifier on that 'no brainer' angle this time around is top weight and 4/1 favourite, Saphir Du Rheu.
Hennessy Gold Cup Pace 2015 Angles
With seventeen runners slated to line up, it would be fair to assume there will be a deal of pace to proceedings. But actually there are few out-and-out pace pushers in the field.
It may fall to The Young Master to take them along, a role he's adopted in half of his eight career wins. In the other half he was a close up player at the outset, so expect Sam Waley-Cohen to be sighted in the early exchanges atop TYM.
Others who look like they'll show at the start if not necessarily sticking around for the duration include Fingal Bay and possibly Bobs Worth, Smad Place and First Lieutenant.
In the circumstances, it may not pay to sit too far off a pace that could be less attritional than is often the case.
Hennessy Gold Cup 2015 Form Preview
And so to the form. With the ground perceived to be just on the easy side of good, there should be few excuses. Let's begin with Paul Nicholls' young favourite, Saphir Du Rheu. Aged six and winner of all three of his completed chase starts, he also has a couple of letters in his form string.
However, since a tumble in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton last Christmas, he has been impressive in sauntering to victory in two Class 1 races. The first, a Grade 1 at the Aintree Festival, was impressive; the second, a debut canter at Carlisle from the re-opposing The Young Master attested to well-being.
As the highest rated in the field, albeit 'only' 163, and with just five chase starts to his name, Saphir Du Rheu can be expected to step forward on what he's shown to date. If he does, he'll be mighty tough to beat granted a clear round.
For those unattracted by the price of the jolly, the next few all look solid if unspectacular propositions.
Bobs Worth, now ten rising eleven, has a two from two record at this track, including victory in the Hennessy of 2012. He'd be a popular winner, for sure, but Hendo will need all of his wizardry to conjure an encore off just a seven pound lower mark than when the old brute was in his pomp three years ago.
Since that victory, his rating soared to a career high 180 just five runs ago, but a subsequent 24 pound plummet is entirely justified on the basis of the first four of those interim efforts. However, most recently - and over hurdles - Bobs Worth hinted that the fire still burned when seeing off stable mate and fellow absentee, Simonsig, at Aintree earlier in the month.
I'm afraid that looked a false dawn to me so, while I'll be delighted on a sporting level if he can roll back the years, he wouldn't be any sort of proposition at 6/1 to my eye. The last ten-year-old winner was Diamond Edge in 1981
On the same price is last year's fifth, Smad Place. Still only eight, he'll be better suited by the expected slighter quicker turf, and ought to be close to the action throughout. My problem with him is that he doesn't seem quite good enough despite admirable consistency. Alan King's boy has never won in Class 1 company, and is only three from nine over fences. Again, it's not that he can't win, but rather that 6/1 is pretty unexciting.
Philip Hobbs is having a mega-season, and the always-hot Minehead maestro saddles If In Doubt here. Wins in a decent beginners' chase and the Great Yorkshire Chase, a Listed handicap, marked him down as a progressive type last season, and there was little shame in an eight length defeat to Don Poli in the RSA Chase.
He may have been over the top when pulling up in the Irish National, where he also endured a troubled trip so, making his seasonal bow, he can be expected to be fresh, well and progressive. Just seven, and with the considerable assistance of Barry Geraghty - Hennessy winner twice in the last three years - in the plate, If In Doubt looks better value than either of the 6/1 pokes at his general quote of 8/1.
The Young Master is expected to give his running, with the prospect of a soft lead and some solid runs in the book. Those runs include a four-timer, the last pair of which were in Listed handicap chases (one when infamously disqualified from the Badger Ales Chase). There is a fair chance he was cooked for the season when only seventh of eight in the RSA Chase - tried to make all, faded badly - and that run is easily overlooked.
His campaign started with a seven length second to Saphir Du Rheu and, while his vanquisher there was well in command at the finish, that was off level weights. Here, The Young Master gets a stone and two pounds, a weight concession that if not bringing them closer together by the lollipop should at least not see the margin of defeat extend particularly. 10/1 looks a pretty reasonable each way play.
The other half of the Hobbs h-entry is Fingal Bay, a loveable barrel-chested animal who seems to have had his issues. Winner of the 2014 Pertemps Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival - and off top weight too - he's clearly a classy chap on his day. But the belief he was a "chaser in the making" has still to be borne out, with half a dozen spins over fences yielding a solitary victory, as an odds on shot on chase debut. His quintet of defeats over the big'uns since includes when pulling up in this race last year, and there are just too many reasons to look elsewhere.
He's probably capable of winning a Hennessy, especially off such a light weight, but 14/1 is a swerve.
At bigger prices, the stable form of Colin Tizzard's yard makes Theatre Guide worth a second glance. Third on his first run since the spring, a Listed handicap chase, he filled the same position in the 2013 Hennessy when beaten just four lengths by Triolo d'Alene. Off a six pound lower mark this time, he may have been a victim of a pretty tough time for the yard last season when many stable stars were running as if under the weather.
At 20/1, he's worth a punt win and place that he's back to the Theatre Guide of 2013, for a trainer in fine fettle.
I find it hard to make cases for the likes of First Lieutenant - surely over the hill now - and Urano, who has never reached the top of the hill; while Ned Stark is a likeable plodder but ought not to have the class for this.
Houblon Des Obeaux must get a mention. Last year's second is just a pound higher this time around, and was a fair sixth the year before. Obviously, he's got little in hand of the 'capper, but looks a reliable sort likely to run another honest race. I don't want 14/1, but maybe you might.
Completing a strong two-pronged assault on the race for Neil Mulholland is The Druid's Nephew, a winner at the Cheltenham Festival in March. That effort propelled him a further ten pounds up the weights to his current perch of 156 but it would be reckless to suggest he's done improving despite taking his place for a 15th time in a chase race. His hurdles pipe opener the other week can be ignored and this will undoubtedly have been the plan all along. I'd rather take 14's about him than most.
Hennessy Gold Cup 2015 Tips
My shortlist for the race comprises Saphir du Rheu, If In Doubt, The Young Master, The Druid's Nephew and Theatre Guide.
Not known as a favourite backer, it is nevertheless very hard for me to overlook the credentials of Saphir du Rheu, and he must be at least saver material. In fact, I'm backing him to win a few quid.
Two of the other four on my shortlist - If In Doubt and The Young Master - retain plenty of upside over fences, though both are priced accordingly. Marginal preference is for The Young Master who could get the run of things in front and may consequently prove pretty tough to pass.
And both The Druid's Nephew and Theatre Guide may have more to offer than many with 14 and 15 runs respectively over fences, with neither discounted lightly. The form of the Tizzard stable, and an offer of 20/1, draws marginal preference.
Hennessy Gold Cup win selection:
Saphir du Rheu 4/1 Betfred / Totesport
Hennessy Gold Cup each way selections:
The Young Master 10/1 general, Theatre Guide 20/1 general