Another Saturday brought another huge success for Colin Tizzard and his Dorset team, as they lifted the Hennessy Gold Cup.
Punters launched into race favourite Native River as if defeat was out of the question. And they were proved right, as the six-year-old held off a late challenge from Carole’s Destrier, to win the prestigious prize. Positioned towards the head of affairs by Richard Johnson, Tizzard’s charge jumped with gusto, sharing the lead with Double Ross throughout.
Turning for home the Twiston-Davies chaser was travelling the better of the two, and he swept to the lead, looking the likely winner. But as the pair approached the second last fence, the favourite had responded to Johnson’s urgings, and was back alongside his main rival. A prodigious leap at the last looked to have sealed the victory, but punters were made to sweat, as Noel Fehily produced a late charge from the Neil Mulholland trained Carole’s Destrier.
The winning distance of less than a length probably flattered the runner-up, with Native River appearing to pick-up again when challenged.
Tizzard spoke to Channel 4 after the victory, saying: “Everything was right for him today; going left-handed and a flat track. He went clear and looked like he would win easily. The other horse (Carole's Destrier) nearly got to him, but then he went again, which is the sign of a good, honest stayer.”
Speaking of future targets, the trainer hinted at a three-pronged assault in the Gold Cup: “He's in the Welsh National but he won't go there if it’s a slog. He's a stayer but he might just be a bit better than that. If he is in the same sort of form in March, he will join Thistlecrack and Cue Card. Hennessy winners go on to do that. They are right there in with the best of them.”
Richard Johnson was winning the Hennessy for the first time, and was clearly delighted when saying: “I was very lucky to pick up the ride on him at Aintree at the end of last season. Colin Tizzard said he stays and jumps and does what it says on the tin. Three and a quarter miles around here, you need a proper stayer and he had it in abundance. He probably idled and found a bit more. The big winners on Saturday is always what you are aiming at. This is race I've never won before and I've had quite a lot of goes. I've been second a couple of times so to win it is special.”
Carole’s Destrier finished the race to great effect, and looks every bit a national horse. He goes on all grounds, and his trainer, Neil Mulholland, confirmed: “He wants further. He will have an entry in this year's Grand National all going well. The plan was always to come here and go for the Welsh National so I don't see why that will change.”
Blaklion looked to have every chance turning for home, but his challenge flattened-out. He’ll have his wind checked, but I’m of the opinion that he’s a little one-paced. A stiff finish and softer ground will see him winning a valuable prize before the season is over.
And of the winner, Tizzard must now map a course for three potential Gold Cup challengers. There’s a chance this fella would be outpaced a little against the elite, but he finds a ton for pressure, and would be storming up that famous hill if taking his chance. He’s still 20s in places for the ‘big one’ in March. That looks a tasty and tempting price to me.