The Package can deliver in Hennessy
Our horse-by-horse guide to Saturday's Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
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Enigmatic performer, but hard to argue with his last two starts (bet365 Gold Cup last April and John Smith's Hurdle on his reappearance last month), where he travelled well and put the race to bed in a very professional manner on both occasions. New mark of 166 may not be enough to stop a bold bid if he's in the same mood once more and he loves soft ground to boot. Don't rule out.
Made a fine impression on his debut for Nicky Henderson (formerly trained by Jessica Harrington then Dessie Hughes in Ireland), winning the United House Gold Cup at Ascot by an easy nine lengths despite a few iffy leaps along the way. 12lb rise in the weights to cope with here, hence the very capable 5lb claimer on board, so needs to improve once again, however he might be a new horse after his change of scenery.
Won on his chasing debut here last November (having looked beaten two out) but most impressive performances have come at Cheltenham where he is unbeaten in four starts, including the RSA Chase in March. This is likely to be the softest ground that he has faced to date, but he doesn't look too harshly treated as he tackles handicaps for the first time. The chosen mount of Barry Geraghty, who bought the horse as a youngster.
Looked a potential superstar when winning over hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival in 2011, but career hasn't gone to plan since tackling fences. Ran well behind Kauto Stone at Down Royal last time (in first-time cheek-pieces) where the ground will have been too soft, so not discounted here, although he is only 1lb better off with Bobs Worth than when beaten comfortably by the latter in the RSA Chase.
Hold On Julio
Very encouraging reappearance at Cheltenham in October, especially as his jumping was less than fluent at times. Has made giant strides since returning to the racecourse, having won a hunter chase in April 2011 and rising 31lbs in the handicap since. Far from done with however and should run well here, although very soft ground might not be ideal.
Lion Na Bearnai
Hit a very rich vein of form in the spring, winning a grade two at Navan at 50/1 and then the Irish Grand National at 33/1. Still lightly-raced over fences and trainer, who only has a handful of horses, may have found the key to him. 12lbs higher today but will appreciate a strong examination of stamina in the mud and capable of hitting the frame.
Has been a disappointment since winning this race 12 months ago, but isn't really a Cheltenham horse (three of his five runs since have been there) and a return to Newbury should see a significant improvement. Form record here reads 1-6-1, and is also proven on very testing ground, so not hard to see him bouncing back to form once again.
Had a long period off the track (missed all of 2011) but returned in fine fettle, filling fourth spot behind Alfie Sherrin in the 3m1f handicap at the Cheltenham Festival, and then walking off with the Badger Ales Trophy on his seasonal return in November. Up 8lbs for that, but the rise looks justified given the front two were miles clear (although the race did fall apart a bit in behind). Stays well, has won on soft ground before and is also a course winner; strong chance.
Got on well with AP McCoy last season, winning two together and being placed on another occasion from four starts together. Didn't show much on his reappearance at Cheltenham, but better judged on his four mile win at the Festival. Stamina a real forte, and the Welsh National is his main aim this season, however a slog in the mud suits down to the ground and should run a big race.
Another who didn't offer too much encouragement on his reappearance but finished ahead of The Package (and behind Alfie Sherrin) in March and then ran with credit in the Scottish National. This trip more suitable, and the ground isn't an issue, so not hard to see him giving his backers a good run for their money from the front. Likely to come up short though.
Signed off for last season with a hard-fought victory at Aintree, appreciating the step back up in trip to three miles. Might be that he is best suited by Liverpool (both of his British wins there), but has run well here before and a strong case to say that his mark of 145 could be lenient for the six-year-old. No prep run however, so the worry might be how the weather has held up any homework and whether that might take its toll late on in testing conditions.
Duke Of Lucca
Has won two of his four starts since the application of a tongue-tie, and he did best of those who chased home a rejuvenated Roberto Goldback at Ascot last time. Mark unchanged here, and has winning form at the track as well as a meritous fourth behind Big Buck's to call on. Still a nagging doubt that he's not fully proven over this sort of test of stamina but is really coming to himself at the age of seven and not ruled out; wouldn't want ground to soften any more though.
Last three starts have all been woeful, although there may have been extenuating circumstances in the Badger Ales last time (held-up, jumped across several times). Certainly capable of getting heavily involved off a mark of 143, considering he won this in 2010 off 156. Shame Timmy Murphy is required to ride The Package, as the pair used to gel well, but course record offers plenty of hope (1-1-1-3-1-1) and Nick Scholfield is a more than capable deputy.
Hasn't won since January 2011, and record has been patchy at best since. One of his better efforts behind Sizing Europe last time (although never threatening) but the cheek-pieces go on for the first time and not one to trust implicitly. However his record on these shores is good (close fourth in RSA Chase and a credible sixth behind Alfie Sherrin and co in March) and is on a fair mark of 140 if putting everything together.
Harry The Viking
Another who has cheek-pieces on for the first time, having blundered away any chance at Cheltenham last time before pulling up. Also failed to complete in the Scottish National last season but that was at the end of a long season so easy to forgive, and encouraging that today's pilot Daryl Jacob is three out of three on the lightly-raced seven-year-old. Question marks over the ground but this sort of race looks a good fit, albeit that a mark of 142 doesn't, at this stage of his development at least.
Was certainly on an upward curve in the spring, before disappointing at Ayr, but is a proven course and distance winner. Ground might be a bit on the soft side (all three wins on good going in the month of March), and is 4lbs worse off with Harry The Viking than when beaten by him in January, but not one to discount too readily. Normal headgear back on having been left off for his reappearance over hurdles.
Attracted support in the betting and was still lobbing along when falling at the second-last fence at Ascot last time, despite racing keenly early on. Now able to race off his correct mark of 141 (although jockey could easily put up over-weight) and looks an interesting contender off this perch, especially as he has winning form on a variety of surfaces. Untested over this far however and intriguing that connections reach for a first-time tongue-tie.
Irish recruit who was brought-down very early on during his final start for Willie Mullins in the four mile race at Cheltenham in March. Has only had six career starts, winning three times and being second twice. Reported to need soft ground so has conditions in his favour, but hard to work out whether he is well-handicapped here running effectively off 140. Market watch perhaps the best course of action.
Perhaps done for a little bit of pace at Ascot last time, but a very promising reappearance nonetheless, especially the way he rallied for third behind Roberto Goldback. Likes soft ground, has won at the track before, and respected despite racing from just out of the weights again.
This used to be a fine race for second-season chasers but for one reason or another the tide has changed of late and the temptation is to take on Bobs Worth despite the figures backing up his chance, as Ian Ogg details in his scintillating stats guide.
THE PACKAGE has had plenty of racing, but the talented nine-year-old looked in fine fettle when winning the Badger Ales Trophy and his trainer David Pipe won this race in 2008, as his father Martin had in 2004.
A sound jumper, the David Johnson-owned gelding is proven in a big field, and although he'd prefer slightly better ground, he has plenty of form on a soft surface.
Another hold-up horse Tidal Bay is not discounted given his undoubted talent, whilst Hold On Julio is short enough given the way his jumping seems to have deteriorated since running in large fields.
A bigger threat could be the lightly-weighted Frisco Depot, as he was still in with every chance when falling at Ascot last time, whilst it wouldn't be a surprise to see previous winners Carruthers and Diamond Harry bounce back to form now returned to the track.
All in all it looks a typically competitive renewal, but David Pipe's runner shouldn't be 10/1 to repeat his Wincanton victory.