By Sean Goff – Sports Reporter
The RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival has proved the best guide to solving the Hennessy Gold Cup (3.10) in recent years and Bobs Worth and First Lieutenant renew rivalry again in the 19-runner contest on Saturday.
Conditions aren’t ideal for either but Bobs Worth heads Paddy Power’s market at 4/1 and trainer Nicky Henderson walked the track on Tuesday and seems happy to let him take his chance.
Barry Geraghty’s mount shoulders 11st 6lb on his seasonal debut and a big run is expected from the second-season chaser who is vying for favouritism in the ante-post lists for the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris sends First Lieutenant over from Ireland and wherever Bobs Worth finishes – First Lieutenant shouldn’t be too far away in a race where Paddy Power are paying 1/4 the odds the first 5 home.
A two-and-a-half length runner-up to Bobs Worth at the Festival last March – Davy Russell’s mount beat reigning Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby a neck in the 2m 5f Neptune Investment Management Hurdle a year earlier.
Most of his best form had been on better ground but if he can cope with the softer going he looks a major player at 12/1 in Paddy Power’s online betting.
Henderson will also have Ascot winner Roberto Goldback in the line-up. The recent Ascot winner was initially ruled out of what the Seven Barrow’s trainer thought could be a “slog in a bog” but will now take his chance.
British champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls relies on the enigmatic top-weight Tidal Bay who’ll be ridden by Ruby Walsh.
Nicholls has won three of the last nine Hennessy’s with Strong Flow (2003) and the mighty Denman (2003 and 2009) and has been blooding the ‘B’ team to find a replacement for the now retired Kauto Star this season.
Silviniaco Conti won the Charlie Hall Chase and last Saturday’s Betfair Chase at Haydock while Al Ferof trounced his rivals in the in the Paddy Power Gold Cup two weeks ago.
David Pipe’s The Package beat Michel Le Bon to win the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton in early November but his trainer has said that he will have to improve again to win a Hennessy.
Less than half the field finished that day and The Package was always close up so the bare form mighn’t prove a reliable yardstick.
One that does fit the bill though is Hold on Julio trained by Alan King. He improved steadily all last season beating subsequent Aintree Grand National winner Neptune Collognes last January before flopping at the Festival
His greatest strength though – only five races over jumps and has the potential to improve again – may also be his biggest weakness in a race like the Hennessy where class and guts are needed. At around 7/1 he looks a dark horse but is he battle-hardened enough?
With the ground likely to be a big factor two outsiders worth keeping an eye on for the places are the former Willie Mullins’-trained Soll at the foot of the handicap on 10st who makes his debut for Jo Hughes and last season’s Irish Grand National winner Lion Na Bearnai who carries 10-8.
Both should revel in the conditions and if it turns into a slog should be staying on in the 3m 2f contest when more fancied runners have cried enough.
Champion jockey AP McCoy takes the mount on Festival winner Teaforthree – the early ante-post favourite for the Welsh National while amateur Sam Waley-Cohen - who won the Gold Cup on Long Run in 2011 – gets the leg up on the fancied Frisco Depot.
The Hennessy in Stats:
The last 22 winners out of 28 contestants had started in the first four in the betting.
Aged 10+ a negative.
Five winners between 2005-2009 carried 11st 4lbs+ and two were top weights. Last two winners were 10st and 10st 4lb.
Nine of last 12 winners had registered a victory over fences at pattern or listed level, four of which had won a Grade 1 over hurdles.