Another fantastic weekend of horse racing is over after the Bet365 Festival at Newbury on Friday and Saturday, culminating in the latest renewal of that great Handicap Chase the Hennessey Gold Cup.
Before looking at this week’s eyecatchers I will take a brief look at the weekend’s action from Newbury and two of the best performances.
River Flows to Hennessey Win
As ever the ‘Hennessey’ was a great spectacle with 19 runners going to post for this historic handicap with the race being won by the favourite the Colin Tizzard trained Native River. The six-year-old was up with the pace most of the way and when he took up the running two out he soon asserted and although he idled on the run-in, in reality, he was never really likely to be caught by the albeit strong finishing Carole’s Destrier who ran a fine race with next year’s Grand National in mind. The winner was given an excellent and very positive ride from the off by jockey Richard Johnson who was incidentally winning his first ‘Hennessey’. What was notable for me was the way he travelled through his race all this from a horse that last season often would hit a flat spot in his races. He clearly has earned a go at the Cheltenham Gold Cup and if connections can get Richard Johnson on board again the horse will be a danger to all.
As I mentioned earlier I thought the run of the Neil Mulholland-trained Carole’s Destrier was an excellent trial for a Grand National. The 33/1 that was still available when I last looked on Oddschecker about his chance for the big one at Aintree looks generous given that his trainer has said at the start of the season that the race was the horse’s target.
Interestingly there has been much speculation amongst pundits that the second season chasers weren’t as good a group and the RSA novice chase form might not be that great although the winner of that race Blacklion was an honourable 5th on Saturday. There is no doubt that it is worth looking back at the form of the last seasons 4m National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham. Native River was 2nd to the Jonjo O’Neill Minella Rocco in that race and the 5th Vicente went on to win the Scottish Grand National. If you fancy Native River for the Gold Cup you would have to respect the chance of Minella Rocco who can be backed at a generous 33/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Unowhatimeanharry Stakes Claim For World Hurdle
If Native River was the stand out performance of the Saturday card then Friday’s top performer was the Harry Fry-trained Unowhatimeanharry who took the 3m Long Distance Hurdle. The 8-year-old was a very progressive novice hurdler who ended his season by winning the 3m Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Making his seasonal reappearance in new colours, those of J P McManus and he made a winning return. Travelling noticeably well throughout the race once he was asked to make his effort he soon put distance between himself and his rivals and a 6 length margin of victory at the finish doesn’t do justice to the horse’s superiority on the day. He will now head for the World Hurdle and was cut into 6/1, 2nd favourite for that race by most bookmakers after this win. He has to considered a strong contender for that race but it’s worth remembering how well the Noel Meade-trained Snow Falcon was going when he came to grief three out. Travelling just as well as the winner it was still a fair way out but it’s hard not to think that he would have at least finished 2nd but for that mishap and certainly given the Fry horse a race. Snow Falcon needs to improve his hurdling if he is to be considered a possible World Hurdle winner and he also has to prove his stamina for that race. Hopefully, connections will aim him at that race and he can be backed at a generally available 16/1 and shouldn’t be dismissed.
Whilst on the subject of the World Hurdle I noticed trainer Jessie Harrington has been talking very positively about, former Champion Hurdle winner, Jezki for that race. The 8-year-old is a best priced 14/1 for the World Hurdle and that looks excellent value to me at this stage, although he hasn’t been seen on the track since beating Hurricane Fly over 3m at the 2015 Punchestown Festival. If returning to that level form he will give owner J P McManus a very strong hand in the race and is my early fancy for March.
Finally, I would be remiss of me not to mention the win of the Dan Skelton trained Knockgraffon, in what looked a rather competitive looking novice handicap chase on the Friday. He jumped boldly throughout the race and although he made a couple of novicey jumps at third and final fences, he was in command of the race at that time and was an impressive 10 length winner at the finish. This was only a handicap but he trainer is already looking ahead to bigger targets for the six-year-old who has a real future over fences.
This week’s Eyecatchers
Onto this week’s eyecatchers and I have two for your trackers this week but as ever I will be adding a few more exclusively for Eyecatcher Pro Subscribers. This week’s tracker horses are from Newbury and Newcastle.
Friday, November 25th
Pingshou – Colin Tizzard – Was having the first start for the trainer since his move from the Henry De Bromhead stable. Hadn’t raced since December 2014, the six-year-old a full brother to the owners Sizing Platinum shaped well on hurdle debut after such a long absence for a credible 4th in a novice hurdle in which the form should work out well. Can win at least a modest novice hurdle before eventually going over fences!
Saturday, November 26th
Bishops Road – Kerry Lee – A fairly quiet start to the winter season for Kerry Lee with her horses looking like they need their first outings. The eight-year-old won his first two starts for his new trainer last season the first over 2m 4f at Sandown and the 2nd over 3m 4f at Haydock. He unseated his rider at the first in the Topham Chase at Aintree on his 3rd start and then fell at the 1st in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown on his last start back in April. Both wins came on heavy and given connections brought him as a Grand National horse you can expect that race will be on this season’s agenda. Ran well as expected to finish 4th, beaten 9 lengths, at Newcastle over 3m. Should come on plenty for this run and can land another staying handicap chase this season when the mud is flying.
All that’s left is to wish you a profitable weeks betting.