Tomorrow promises to be a great day for racing enthusiasts the world over. Newbury’s 3-day Hennessy meeting concludes with the highlight of the weekend, the Hennessy Gold Cup, whilst Newcastle hosts the Fighting Fifth Hurdle; a race that will offer some clear pointers to the Champion Hurdle in March. A selection of Channel 4 races have been analysed and I have outlined my best bets!
Starting with the main race; the Hennessy Gold Cup has always been one of the highlights of the jumps season. It's a race with a rich heritage and this year’s renewal looks highly competitive with a field full of young and improving chasers looking to stake their claim at the highest level. The ante-post markets have been dominated by Invictus (10/1 Coral) thanks mainly to his 3 length beating of Bobs Worth back in 2012. A literal reading of that form would see him thrown in here off a mark of 145. However, an absence of 651 days will demand a lot from the horse and at the current odds he’s plenty short enough for me.
Lord Windermere (9/1 Betfred) won the Sun Alliance at last season’s festival in good fashion and a further step up in trip could well suit. He travels well in his races and has the jumping ability and stamina required to win this contest. His trainer Jim Culloty has been very happy with his preparation and he looks to have an obvious chance. He has already accounted for a few of his rivals at Cheltenham, in the form of Hadrian's Approach (12/1 Coral) and Houblon Des Obeaux (22/1 Betfred). The former didn't jump with any great fluency that day and did well to finish as close as he did. He returned to action this season with a solid second at Kempton over a trip less than ideal, and this race is sure to suit him much better. Houblon Des Obeaux showed he had summered well when dismissing a competitive field at Ascot 4 weeks ago. A 10lb hike in the weights is fair enough but this is tougher again and will demand further improvement.
Rocky Creek (7/1 Ladbrokes) is another who ticked the progressive novice box last season. He came up a bit short at Aintree on his final start but a step up in trip, slower ground and a stiffer track will all be in his favour on this occasion. Two at a longer prices for those who like a tilt are Same Difference (33/1 Betfred) and Super Duty (20/1 Ladbrokes). The first ran too badly to be true on his seasonal reappearance behind Houblon Des Obeaux. This tough individual showed that big field handicaps hold no fear when winning at the Cheltenham Festival and backed that up in Sandown's Bet365 Gold Cup to close out the season. Same Difference beat the Donald McCain trained Super Duty however, if fully tuned up, the McCain runner may well represent some solid each way value.
Moving on to the Long Distance Hurdle, At Fishers Cross (4/5 Coral) was one of the stories of last season and makes his eagerly awaited reappearance here having been a late withdrawal at Wetherby 4 weeks ago. He continued to improve right through the season and trainer Rebecca Curtis is bullish that he will be better this year. Reve De Sivola (9/2 Betfred) sets a good standard on the ratings having been runner up in this race to Big Bucks last season amongst other excellent efforts. However he is best suited when the ground is at its most testing and it might be a tad too firm for him here. Celestial Halo (5/1 Ladbrokes) has been competing at the highest level since making his hurdling debut almost 6 years ago and showed he was far from a back number at this level when finishing runner up in the World Hurdle in March. Nevertheless, he will need to reproduce that form once more on his first start for almost 6 months to have any chance of beating the favourite. Medinas (8/1 Betfred) posted a career best effort when triumphant in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival and ran close to that level in the Yorkshire Hurdle at the start of the month, on that form he is another key player.
Newcastle is the other host of the Channel 4 cameras on Saturday, the highlight of course being the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle. The betting would suggest it's a two horse race between My Tent Or Yours (4/5 Betfred) and Melodic Rendezvous (9/4 Ladbrokes) in this traditional Festival trial. The former is third favourite for the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle having finished a game runner up in the Supreme Novices before going to to demolish a small field in a Grade 2 race at Aintree. He looks capable of going to the top over hurdles and is a worthy favourite. Melodic Rendezvous made a pleasing return in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton winning a little more cosily than the winning margin suggests. He will need to come on for that run to turn over the favourite though, with the runner up doing nothing to frank the form at Haydock last weekend. Cockney Sparrow (14/1 Ladbrokes) has the weight advantages in her favour and having won well at Wetherby on her seasonal reappearance she could well pick up a place here. Although it's a tough task for a four year old against her elders, trainer John Quinn knows what it takes to win this race having sent Countrywide Flame out to do so in 2012. It will be interesting to see how Grumeti (9/1 Coral) gets on having only been seen once last season when trying to gives lumps of weight away in the Scottish Champion hurdle. A very talented novice the year before it would not be a surprise if he were able to bustle up the favourite here and could represent a spot of each way value.
The other contest from Newcastle is the 3 mile Rehersal Chase which moved from Chepstow in 2006 where it was a Welsh National prep for many years. Not the same quality these days but a potential improver in the shape of Vintage Star (10/3 Coral) gets the vote. Thought of well enough by connections to take on the Sun Alliance at the Cheltenham Festival last season, he came back at a more realistic level earlier in the month beating the smart Buddy Bolero at Carlisle. Providing this run doesn't come too soon he is likely to take some beating in a field that doesn't exactly look full of potential improvers. Master Of The Hall (14/1 Betfred) was in the process of running his best race in quite some time when falling 3 out in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby at the start of the month. If he has recovered from that tumble he may prove the biggest danger with the move to Micky Hammond's yard looking to have suited him. Having rounded out last season with a third in the Scottish National, Mister Marker (7/1 Coral) made a promising comeback at Carlisle. Although more likely to place than win, the trip and ground all seem to come alike to him and he should put up another solid display.
2.05 Newcastle – My Tent Or Yours (4/5 Betfred)
2.25 Newbury – At Fishers Cross (4/5 Coral)
2.40 Newcastle – Vintage Star (10/3 Coral)
3.00 Newbury – Lord Windermere (9/1 Betfred)