Things We Learned » Hennessy anomaly

Hennessy anomaly

There were three second-season chasers in last Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup who were sent off at single-figure prices, four if you include Fingal Bay, which you legitimately can, given that Philip Hobbs’ horse hadn’t run over fences since his novice season 2012/13.

Of those four horses, just one of them had had a run this season, the winner Many Clouds. The other three, Smad Place, Djakadam and Fingal Bay, were making their seasonal debuts. The first-named pair finished, respectively, fifth and eighth, while Fingal Bay was pulled up.

It is an interesting anomaly, because the Hennessy roll of honour is strewn with sophomores who were making their seasonal debuts. In recent times,

Bobs Worth in 2012, Diamond Harry in 2010, Denman in 2007, State Of Play in 2006, Trabolgan in 2005 and What’s Up Boys in 2001 were all novices from the previous season who made successful seasonal debuts in the Hennessy.

Perhaps this year was just that, an anomaly, because the first-time-out-second-season-chaser route is a tried and tested route. Run the progressive novice off the handicap rating off which he ended his novice season. Don’t give him a prep run, don’t give the handicapper a chance to re-assess him with a summer’s improvement under his belt.

Many Clouds was raised 7lb after he won at Carlisle on his debut this season, in his prep race for the Hennessy. There was a chance that the extra 7lb could have made the difference between victory and defeat but, in hindsight, the disadvantage of the 7lb hike was probably out-weighed by the advantage that was gained by having a prep run.

But perhaps it is not an anomaly at all. Perhaps these are the shoots of a trend. Last year’s Hennessy winner, Triolo D’Alene, was only six, but he was not a second-season chaser, nor was he making his seasonal debut. Third, fourth and fifth, Theatre Guide, Highland Lodge and Merry King, were all second-season chasers, but they had all had a run before the Hennessy last season.

Last year’s runner-up Rocky Creek was admittedly a second-season chaser who was making his seasonal debut, but so was the 11/2 favourite Our Father, who finished seventh, and the 7/1 third favourite Lord Windermere, who finished eighth (and who was so good he went and won the Gold Cup last March) and the 8/1 joint fourth-favourite, Invictus, who finished 11th.

Perhaps a prep run is no baggage to carry into a Hennessy for these second-season chasers.

Djakadam talk

There has been plenty of analysis all week about Djakadam’s defeat. There has been lots of talk – with the 20-20 vision that comes with hindsight – about the supposed Djakadam hype in the lead up to the race, about the need not to buy into such supposed hype, about the need to trust what you see and not what you hear. All this, of course, secure in the knowledge that Djakadam has been beaten. Easy to say I told you so.

The reality is that Djakadam was not about the hype at all. He was actually all about substance and potential. On his run in the JLT Chase at Cheltenham last March, when he fell at the fourth last fence when travelling well in a race in which the first three home are now rated around 160, Willie Mullins’ horse could have had almost 20lb in hand of the handicapper on Saturday. He deserved to be clear favourite for Saturday’s race. Based on the evidence that we had before the Hennessy – as opposed to after the Hennessy – Djakadam was potentially the best-handicapped horse in the race.

It is probable that, for whatever reason, he under-performed on Saturday. Perhaps it was all too much for him, a five-year-old racing in just his fourth chase. Perhaps he didn’t stay. Perhaps something was ailing him. It is difficult to know for sure why.

What we do know is that the Timeform rating that he achieved on Saturday of 122 was 20lb lower than the rating that he achieved when he beat Bright New Dawn in a Grade 2 novices’ chase at Leopardstown last February. And it might have been even further off the mark that he would have achieved in the JLT had he not fallen at the fourth last.

From a betting point of view, of course, it is no harm if most people believe that it was all Hennessy hype. If they do, he should be under-rated and over-priced in the future.

Feel-good moment

No prizes for originality in nominating the feel-good moment of the week: Lieutenant Colonel’s win in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Of course, the Gigginstown House horse’s task was eased by the defection of Annie Power and by the early fall of Zaidpour, but you can only ever beat what they put in front of you, and Lieutenant Colonel was impressive in coming away from Jetson on the run-in, the pair of them clear of Little King Robin.

The feeling of goodwill towards Sandra and Eileen Hughes afterwards was palpable. It was Sandra’s first Grade 1 win as a trainer, just a day after Sub Lieutenant provided her with her first win since taking over from her father Dessie. There was no mistaking the feeling that it was the right result.

It was interesting to learn afterwards that Dessie had wanted Lieutenant Colonel to stay over hurdles this season all along, so his defeat in his beginners’ chase at Naas early last month could have been the best thing ever. Strange the way these things work out, but it would be surprising if Dessie was not already on some kind of steering committee Up There with a direct line to the main decision-maker. As Michael O’Leary said after Sunday’s win, Dessie is probably up there doing the declarations while Sandra is down here doing the training.

Ros ride

It is a shame that the five-day ban with which Davy Russell was rewarded at Clonmel on Thursday – remember, when Lester did it, it was genius – means that he will miss the first three days of the Christmas Festival, but it should only be a blip in a season that is building momentum.

Russell’s talents were in evidence once again on Ros Brin in the EBF mares’ handicap chase at Fairyhouse on Sunday. George Kingston’s mare was down on her nose at the second fence, but her rider gave her plenty of time to recover her equilibrium, bided his time, got his mare jumping, going in and popping, allowed the leaders dash away from him at the fifth last fence, made his ground stealthily from there, sat still, five lengths off the leader Down Ace as they turned for home, joined her at the last and went on to win well.

It has been a strange year for Russell. The roller coaster at Alton Towers would not have had a look in with the year that he has had. However, things appear to be settling into a nice rhythm for him now. He has recently been named as Dr Ronan Lambe’s rider, and he has been in demand in Britain of late.

He had four rides for Rebecca Curtis at Ffos Las – two winners, a second and a third – two weeks ago, Neil Mulholland booked him for The Druids Nephew in the Hennessy last Saturday, and Harry Fry snapped him up for Vukovar for the Tingle Creek Chase today at Sandown. And, of course, he is set to renew his association with his Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown tomorrow. It could be an interesting season ahead for the Corkman.

Riches’ crossroads

It looks like he will probably run in the Lexus Chase over Christmas, but wouldn’t Road To Riches be an interesting inclusion in the King George VI Chase at Kempton instead?

It may be just down to happenstance, but a lot of the Gigginstown House horse’s good form has been at right-handed tracks. His Galway Plate win, his Champion Chase win, even his Cork Stayers Novice Hurdle win. His record going right over hurdles and fences reads 116312121 (five wins, two seconds and a third from nine attempts) while his record going left reads 81P4.

Also, there is a good chance that Kempton would suit him really well. It is a track that favours bold prominent-racing good jumpers. You rarely see them coming from too far back over fences at Kempton, unless the ground is really testing. And three miles on a flat right-handed track on good to soft ground is probably close to optimal for the Noel Meade-trained gelding.

He would only have 7lb to find with the top-rated horses in the King George on official ratings, and he still has plenty of scope for progression.

Betfair odds of 66 for the King George suggest that he is an unlikely runner, especially when contrasted with odds of around 7 for the Lexus. However, Gigginstown House potentially have First Lieutenant and Don Cossack for the Lexus, while Noel Meade also has Texas Jack, so why not?

© The Irish Field, 6th December 2014