Happy Hennessy memories
Richard Dunwoody looks ahead to this weekend's Irish Hennessy Gold Cup and brings us all the vital big-race trends.
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Another big week ahead and as we draw towards the 4-5 week mark before the Cheltenham Festival then a lot of horses will be having their final prep runs before next month's big meeting. Newbury host one of their biggest days of the year this Saturday with the Denman Chase, Game Spirit Chase and Betfair Hurdle the key races, while over in Ireland it's their Hennessy Gold Cup.
I was lucky enough to ride the winner of the Irish Hennessy back-to-back in 1998 and 1999 on some old favourites - Dorans Pride and Florida Pearl, and, in fact, that victory on Florida Pearl was the first of four wins in the race for Willie Mullins' horse.
Beef Or Salmon was the other horse has dominated the contest in recent years - winning it three times, while although deemed a Gold Cup trial, since the race was first run in 1987 we've actually only seen two horses - Jodami (1993) and Imperial Call (1996) - land both races in the same season.
So is that going to change this season? Well, it easily could as leading Irish chasers Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs dominate the betting ahead of Saturday's race, and with the pair currently priced 5/1 and 12/1 respectively for Cheltenham's Blue Riband then whichever horse wins this weekend is sure to shorten up in the ante post market.
Yes, if Flemenstar, who is out to prove his doubters he does stay 3m, wins there is still a chance that he could opt for either the Ryanair or Champion Chases - being entered for those two races as well as the Gold Cup - but with Sir Des Champs there is no such worries as win-lose-or draw he'll be Gold Cup bound.
We last saw them both running a close third and fourth in the Lexus Chase - with just ¾ of a length separating the first four home that day. Of course it's not just a two-horse race with the likes of Quito De La Roque and last year's winner Quel Esprit in the race too, but, for me, I'll be amazed if the winner isn't either Flemenstar or Sir Des Champs.
With Flemenstar on a tiny recovering mission over this trip then there will be plenty of punters willing to take him on again as his petrol tank seemed to empty very quickly after jumping the last in the Lexus. However, those willing to give him another chance will be hoping he's ridden with a bit more authority. Yes, he was always up with the pace last time, but every time he made 1-2 lengths at his fences he was pulled back into the pack in order to preserve his stamina. It's a tricky one as it was his first time over that trip, but I suspect jockey Andrew Lynch learnt bundles from the race and we could see a slightly different approach this time.
Sir Des Champs on the other hand is a pure stayer and, therefore, connections will be hoping it's a strongly-run affair as he was doing all his best work in the closing stages last time out. That was also only his second run of the season, so he should be spot-on in terms of fitness here and with the Willie Mullins camp landing this race a staggering 8 times since 1999, including for the past two seasons, then I think Sir Des Champs looks the safest option.
Whatever happens on Saturday we'll certainly be a lot clearer on which path Flemenstar will take at Cheltenham, while if Sir Des Champs wins with authority then his current Gold Cup price of around 5/1 will vanish without trace as he looks end up in the winners' enclosure at the Cheltenham Festival for the third successive season.
If you like your trends, then here are some ahead of Saturday's Irish Hennessy Gold Cup....
Irish Hennessy Gold Cup Trends
10/10 - Ran within the last 6 weeks
10/10 - Favourites placed
10/10 - Won over at least 3m previously (any code)
10/10 - Raced at Leopardstown (fences) previously
8/10 - Won a Grade 1 Chase previously
8/10 - Ran in the Lexus Chase (Leopardstown) last time
8/10 - Winners that came from the top 3 in the betting
8/10 - Won by an Irish-bred horse
7/10 - Winners that went onto race at that season's Cheltenham Festival (no winners)
7/10 - Finished in the top 3 last time out
7/10 - Won between 3-5 times over fences (rules) previously
7/10 - Won by a horse aged 9 or younger
7/10 - Winning distance - 3 lengths or more
6/10 - Favourites that won
6/10 - Won over fences at Leopardstown previously
6/10 - Officially rated 160 or higher
5/10 - Winners that went onto race in that season's Gold Cup (no winners)
4/10 - Won by the Willie Mullins stable (won the race 8 times in all)
4/10 - Won their last race
2/10 - Won by a UK-based stable
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