Invictus & Lord Windermere Stand Out In Early Hennessy Market

The Hennessy Gold Cup is one of the few handicap events during the jumps season that I have always enjoyed getting involved in and this weekend’s renewal is no different.  It is largely down to the quality of the field that the Newbury feature tends to attract, and whilst it’s a handicap in name and weights that runners carry, you can rest assured that the majority of those lining up will  boast Grade One form, a point reaffirmed by wins in the race from the likes of Bobs Worth, Denman (twice), Trabolgan and Strong Flow in the past decade, who all won at the top level. Two of the aforementioned even went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season as their Hennessy glory, so it merits respect as a betting proposition given the quality of the field.

The fact that seven of the last ten Hennessy winners carried 11 stone or more is also a strong indicator that class prevails in the race irrespective of weight and it is a horse towards the top of the handicap that takes my eye as I look to bag a bit a value ahead of Saturday’s race.

When Lord Windermere stayed on up the Cheltenham Hill back in March to land the RSA Chase by just shy of two lengths, it was easy for many to say that he wouldn’t have beaten Boston Bob who was leading when he fell at the last but the Jim Culloty trained seven-year-old had put in a bad jump three out before finding trouble in running coming around the turn and nothing should be taken away from his battling effort that day. He has not been seen on a racecourse since but the Irish Raider is open to a huge amount of improvement over three miles after that Cheltenham victory was his first start over the distance and given the manner of his win, he can be fully expected to relish every yard of the 3m 2f slog around Newbury.

It’s a natural comparison to draw upon the similarities between Lord Windermere and last year’s Hennessy winner, Bobs Worth, both of whom won the RSA chase before the Hennessy provided the starting point for their chasing careers out of novice company as connections look to exploit a potentially lenient handicap mark.

Bobs Worth’s RSA Chase win in 2012 was probably more impressive and a better piece of form than that of the 2013 equivalent but Lord Windermere appears to posses the same battling qualities that Bobs Worth showed to land the £86,000 first prize 12 months ago and that is a big positive on forecast soft ground at a galloping track like Newbury.

He’s been the subject of some early market support at the start of the week, being cut from 12/1 in to 10/1 with most bookmakers but I’ve taken a chance (each way) at the 12s still available with Ladbrokes (on Tuesday) that Lord Windermere can end Ireland’s 33 year wait for victory in this race.

The second pick is another youngster in the form of Invictus from the Alan King yard who will also be trying his hand out of novice company for the first time and heads to the the Berkshire track with a pretty big reputation but must overcome a 20 month absence! Last seen winning the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase over three miles at Ascot in February last year, Invictus has been sidelined since but the form of that race couldn’t have worked out any better with Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti both behind King’s runner that day. It is therefore no surprise to see the seven-year-old head the betting despite question marks over his fitness but with just 10-13 on his back and Robert Thornton already booked to take the ride, it looks like Newbury is the chosen destination for this long awaited run.

It’s a big ‘if’  but should Invictus return anywhere close to full fitness, he represents a cracking bet and one that I am willing to risk to find out at odds of 7/1. The word from Barbury Castle is that he’s in great order and schooled well over fences on Monday. From a punter’s perspective, it has to be thought that there would have been more attractive alternatives before now to hand him a reappearance run and as such, I’m putting faith in the fact that King must be confident that he’s capable of handling the nature of a big field handicap after such a long lay-off.

Since I think Invictus is worth a play to win the Hennessy, it would be foolish not to look at his price for Gold Cup, for which he’s currently 40/1. Given the relationship between Saturday’s race and Cheltenham’s main event in March, my delight should he win at Newbury would soon turn to frustration as I’d be kicking myself for passing up on those odds as a win would see that price cut in half at least and therefore it’s also speculative each way bet in the Gold Cup ante post market.

Hennessy Gold Cup Selections

Lord Windermere – each way @ 12/1

Invictus – win @ 7/1

Invictus to win the 2014 Gold Cup – each way @ 40/1

Five Stars For The Future From The Alan King Yard

Having enjoyed plenty of success at the Cheltenham Festival down the years, the Alan King Barbary Castle Stable looks primed to enjoy success once again this season with a number of gifted youngsters amongst his ranks.

Theses will complement the many who have already established themselves as top performers from the yard. Horses such as Sefton Hurdle winner, Lovcen, the highly promising hurdler, Balder Succes, Raya Star, the stable’s biggest earner last season and not forgetting Smad Place, third in the World Hurdle behind Big Buck’s at the Cheltenham festival in March.

Here are five young horses from the Alan King yard I like the look of and will be watching over the coming months.

Handazan

Second on his British debut behind a decent Paul Nicholls novice, Far West was the much vaunted Handazan, who has arrived at the King stable after achieving a Flat Rating of 98, suggesting that this three year old oozes class. King was much impressed with his debut performance behind Far West and recognised that he would improve greatly for that run, something he did when comfortably winning a Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree a couple of weeks back on his second run for the yard.

He is being pencilled in as a possible Triumph Hurdle contender and on what he has shown so far, he would have every chance of being there and is currently rated as a 33/1 chance in the race’s antepost market.

Valdez

This very smart horse was been beaten just once last season in Bumpers, that coming in the Doncaster Sales race at Newbury, where he possibly had contracted some sort of stomach bug as he ran far below that was expected. Before that defeat, he won two from two over two miles with his first win coming on Good ground at Warwick, which he won by over eight lengths. That win came last March and he followed it up with a second Bumper victory at Kempton in February, this time on Soft ground, proving that the going will have little bearing on his performance.

His first start in Novice Hurdle company came at Wincanton in October, where he went down by a 1/4 of a length when 6/5 favourite.

It is abundantly clear that there are high expectations for Valdez and improvement is sure to come now tried over obstacles and he could be the yard’s challenger the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham next March.

Vendor

A winner twice from three starts last season after joining the King stable from France, this obviously very talented four year old also finished third in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival back in March (watch on Youtube). He is clearly one earmarked for stardom in the future but whether or not he has the speed over two miles is a doubt and it would seem the yard were keen to test his stamina over 2½ miles on his seasonal debut at Aintree recently. However, he was pulled up on that occasion leaving questions to answer but he should not be written off just yet and is worth watching on his next couple of starts.

McVicar

This three year old arrived at Barbary Castle with a glowing reference from Henrietta knight who has spent a lot of time schooling him. She believes that he will make the transition from Flat Racing to Hurdles comfortably and it is suggested that he has the potential to make it through to Graded Company. It may also be worth noting that McVicar was originally trained on the flat by Mick Channon, who had originally looked after Katchit, before he too moved to King and went on to win the Champion Hurdle in 2007. If McVicar is anything near that quality then the stable have got themselves a real star in the making!

McVicar was a very good handicapper with a couple of good wins under his belt and whole string of decent performances. His debut for the yard came at Huntingdon on the 4th November where he demolished five rivals in an easy 15 length victory when the 3/10 favourite. A more satisfying introduction to National Hunt life he could not have had and is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Grumeti

Already established as one of the stable stars, Grumeti will have benefited hugely from the Summer break after a hugely promising Juvenile season.

As is well known, Grumeti avenged his defeat by Countrywide Flame in the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival by winning the Grade One Matalan Anniversary Hurdle at Aintree three weeks later, where he had the John Quinn beaten by a length back in second.

Before the Cheltenham Festival, he had won twice at Grade Two level, including the Triumph Hurdle Trial in January, clearly proving that he had taken to hurdling far more readily than most. His racing career had begun on the flat as a 2 year old where he was trained by Michael Bell and campaigned in handicaps, winning twice.

King has no real reason to rush him straight back on course and has suggested that he will be kept back until the early part of December. At that time, he will be given a warm up before taking on his first target of the season, the Grade One, Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and the Champion Hurdle will be the longer term aim at the Festival in March.

West End Rocker Can Land Bet365 Gold Cup

It has been a case of “Cometh the rain, cometh the money” for the two proven mud lovers in this weekend’s Bet365 Gold Cup over an extended 3m5f atSandownPark. The first of those, Le Beau Bai, winner of the Welsh National earlier this season has been heavily supported in the market this week and has been cut from 12/1 into 6/1 across the board with bookmakers, whilst Becher Chase winner, West End Rocker, is reported to be unaffected by his Grand National fall and is next in the market at a best price 9/1 with Ladbrokes.

It is the Bet365 Gold Cup, known for years previously as the Whitbread Gold Cup, is the race that effectively draws the curtain on the National Hunt season. Over the years it has produced some fantastic winners, the great Arkle took the honours in 1965, his great rival, Mill House took the race in 1967 and the incredible Desert Orchid won a pulsating battle in 1988. All three carried top weight to victory.

Top weight this year is Tidal Bay, former winner of the Grade 1 Arkle Challenge Trophy over 2 miles at Cheltenham but who these days is campaigned over longer trips but he has found little success since moving to the stable of Paul Nicholls at the end of last season. He is quoted at 10/1 to win the race but would have to end a losing run over fences stretching back to November 2008 if he is to do so.

Nicholls also runs his consistent stayer, Aldertune, who has finished in second place in his last two runs, both at Sandown and has ran up a string of similar performances over the last couple of seasons but the 8 year old has only one chase win to his names and rates a 16/1 chance.

Galaxy Rock pulled up in the Scottish Grand National last week at Ayr but has been supported this week to bounce back to form for trainer, Jonjo O’Neill. He seemed to have a very hard race atAyrwhere he was pulled up before the final fence having raced prominently. Whether he has recovered sufficiently from that is a question that he alone can answer by performance but it raises questions and certainly gives reason for having plenty of doubt about backing him at 10/1.

Le Beau Bai will carry 10-12 and is one that can stay and jump forever and should be suited by the conditions and the course and looks nailed on to at least get into the frame for his trainer Richard Lee.

West End Rocker meanwhile, who looked so impressive when winning the Becher Chase at Aintree back in December, is a lightly raced horse who only got to the second fence in the Grand National. Provided that experience is behind him, he too should feature at the business end of this race and it would surprise to see him win.

Following his second place in the Midland Grand National over 4m2f at Uttoxeter last month, Major Malarkey from the stable of Nigel Twiston-Davies could easily go one better in this. He can handle any ground and if in the mood could make his presence felt off just 10-5, quite a lenient mark based on his last run.

This is a very tough race to call but preference is given to West End Rocker to return to winning ways for trainer Alan King and provide a fitting end to what has been an excellent season for the Wiltshire yard.

Grand National Trial At Haydock Should Provide Some Useful Aintree Pointers

With the weights having being revealed for the 2012 Aintree Grand National, particular attention will be paid to the Betfred Grand National Trial over 3m4f which takes place this Saturday at Haydock Park.

After the five day declaration stage made on Monday, 23 runners stood their ground with Neptune Collonges from the Paul Nicholls stable topping the weights with 11-12 with Grand National favourite, Junior, from the David Pipe stable set to carry 11-6 in the race.

This will be the first run of the season for Junior, who demolished his rivals in the Kim Muir Fulke Walwyn Challenge Cup over 3m2f at the Cheltenham Festival last March and then subsequently ran at Royal Ascot where he failed in his attempt to win back to back Ascot Stakes on the flat. The style of his Cheltenham Festival win however, is the principle reason why he is the antepost favourite for the Aintree Grand National in which he will carry 11-2. He won the ‘Kim Muir’ by a staggering 24 lengths looking a very commanding horse in the process and clearly one who has a lot more to come and the handicapper looks to have given Junior a huge chance ahead of the Aintree feature.

Up against him on Saturday is Welsh National winner, Le Beau Bai from the Richard Lee stable who is likely in fact to go off as the favourite should the going remain heavy. He finished third in this race 12 months ago behind Silver By Nature but never went on to run at Aintree. After a mediocre start to the season, this 9 year old has come on leaps and bounds with the Welsh National victory his biggest success to date. He is an absolute mud lark and the worse conditions the ground is in the better and if they turns in to an extreme test of stamina, you can be assured that Le Beau Bai will be in the shake up at the end.

Topping the Irish challenge is the Charlie Swan trained, Start Me Up, who comes to the race with only one win in a Beginners Chase but the form of that run has worked out well and stable optimism for a big run is high.

Cappa Bleu third behind Le Beau Bai in the Welsh National will be representing the Evan Williams yard who will expect him to improve considerably for his Chepstow run. A former winner of the Foxhunters Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, the ten year old is an excellent jumper and a very thorough stayer.

Neptune Collonges is still looking for his first win since taking the 2011 Argento Chase and will have the burden of top weight, although that did not hamper him too much last time out when he was a very creditable second place behind Hold On Julio in the 32Red Handicap Chase at Sandown in January but the weight may way hold him back from winning this.

Giles Cross, second in the Welsh National is slightly better weighted to reverse form with le Beau Bai and trainer, Victor Dartnell, was a little frustrated by a second successive second in the Welsh National but is sure to be confident that his 10 year can make the frame at the Lancashire track on Saturday.

All in all, this is a very open Grand National trial with a host in with chances. One to possibly watch out for who is well handicapped is Evan Williams second entry, Deep Purple. This 11 year old looked a very decent Gold Cup prospect a couple of years ago after winning both the Grade 2 Charlie Hall and Peterborough Chases. However his form evaporated after efforts in the 2009 King George Vl Chase and the 2010 Ryanair Chase failed. However, he returned to winning ways in December, when taking the London National over 3m6f at Sandown, when carrying top weight. This race is altogether a higher quality but with only 11-7 to carry this time, the odds 16/1 look decent each way value for a horse with proven quality.

Whatever the outcome, this Grand National Trial should provide a number of useful pointers ahead of the big race on 14th April.

King Can Be Crowned With A Few Big Winners This Jumps Season

Although the National Hunt season looks set to be dominated once again by the Nicholls and Henderson yards, the Alan King stable at Barbury Castle in Wiltshire should not be overlooked and looks primed for a big season. King started his training career when assistant to the legendary David Nicholson and has gone on to gain a reputation as one of the National hunt’s leading names and amongst his runners are a number of Cheltenham Festival hopefuls.

To add credence to the optimism surround the King stable of runners is the fact that he is the latest trainer to be given the opportunity to train a horse bred by Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, when he accepted the task from them of training Tuscan Gold last week. The four year old has huge potential and makes the transition to jumps after running on the flat for Sir Mark Prescott and heads to Barbury Castle with the intention of becoming a staying hurdler and he could be seen in novice company as soon as January.

King has 130 horses in training currently of which his best prospects for the coming months include the unlikely Flaming Charlie, in who King has immense faith in, despite being a seven year old who has gone wrong a couple of times already. King believes that this gelding has genuine class and will shine in when making his seasonal reappearance this week.

Obviously Medermit has been one of the stable stars over the last couple of seasons and although well beaten by Master Minded and Somersby in the Amlin 1965 Chase last weekend, he still has the ability to make a big impression in Grade One company this season. He has of course already won the Grade 2 Haldon Cup at Exeter and is a horse that made a big name for himself and King when second in the 2009 Supreme Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

King will also have high hopes that West End Rocker can get the better of the Aintree fences this year and become a realistic chance for the 2012 Grand National in April. Brought down at Bechers last season, this nine year old won two cracking staying handicap chases last season before his Aintree attempt and if he can find his rhythm then he will be a big danger in the world’s most famous race. Before that, King will likely give West End Rocker a run over Aintree’s fences in the Becher Chase later this month.

Five year old Invictus is another horse with huge potential and has already won a novice chase first time out this season. That win came in decent company at Hereford which saw him winning by 11 lengths despite being hampered a few fences from home.

Four year old juvenile, Montbazon, excited last season with several useful performances in Bumpers, one of which he won. Even the two that he was beaten in were by subsequent Cheltenham Festival winner, Cheltenian and then by Steps To Freedom, a winner in Listed Flat company and a subsequent Grade 3 Hurdle winner. Montbazon was also beaten on his seasonal reappearance at Cheltenham last week in the Listed Bumper but King won’t have been too unhappy as it is likely the four year old will have needed the run and remains a horse with a bright future.

Medermit set for Arkle Tilt after Sandown success

Trainer, Alan King, confirmed over the weekend that Medermit will run in the Arkle Trophy Challenge at the Cheltenham Festival in March, following his solid success when winning the Grade1 Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown Park last Saturday. King had been undecided whether Medermit should take on the more prestigious Arkle over two miles or the Jewson Novice Chase over two and a half miles but both he and jockey, Choc Thornton believe he will be better over two miles and deserves his chance at one of the big races at the Festival.

Medermit certainly looked impressive in the Scilly isles Chase, although he did have to battle hard to hold off the late challenge of Captain Chris, who also ran well for the Phillip Hobbs stable. Hobbs however, like King was, is not certain which race at the Festival will suit his 7 year old who has now finished second four times from four starts this season. The Bookmakers in fact have shortened Medermit for the race from 13/2 to 6/1, while Captain Chris is at 14/1 but is 10/1 for the Jewson Novices. Interestingly it was King’s first Grade 1 winner for two years.

Favourite in the Arkle odds is the Nicky Henderson trained, Finians Rainbow, at 4/1, more or less across the board. The eight year is clearly a late developer but has looked mightily impressive in his two chase starts so far, which he won emphatically each time, although it has to be said that he only had two opponents in each race. The first win came in the Rooney Hall Novice Chase back in November where he had none other than Hells Bay 12 lengths behind. Hells Bay of course who is trained by Colin Tizzard defeated Medermit on New Year’s Day in the Grade 2, Dipper Novice Chase over two miles and five furlongs at Cheltenham and is one of the favourites to win the Jewson. Finians rainbow followed that win by taking the Zenergi Novice Chase last month at Newbury when a huge odds on favourite.

Next best in the Arkle betting at around 9/2 is the Paul Nicholls 7 year old, Ghizao, an impressive winner of his last two chase’s, one at Grade 2 level . In both races he had Captain Chris well behind him in second place.

Nicholls, King and Henderson all have good records in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, winning it seven times between them. King in fact won in successive years in 2006, with the brilliant Voy Por Ustedes and in 2007 with My Way De Solzen, while Nicholls last success in the race came in 2003 with Azertyuiop, while Henderson has to go back to 2000 when he won with Tiutchev.

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