Donn's Articles » Hennessy day pointers

Hennessy day pointers

It is not all about Cheltenham, but most of it is. Four Grade 1 races at Leopardstown today, almost half a million euro in total prize money, and yet, while eyes will no doubt be fixed on the Foxrock track this afternoon, minds will inevitably focus on the Cheltenham Festival this evening.

The season funnels towards Cheltenham. Every National Hunt horse who puts his head through a bridle in October is a Cheltenham candidate, every trainer hopes, every owner dreams. And then, race by race, month by month, reputations are tested, abilities are distilled, reality dawns and a finite number of real live contenders are left in the bottom of the jar.

Today is a big day for Leopardstown, but it is also a big day for Cheltenham pointers. Four of the horses who ran at Leopardstown on this day last year went on to win at the Cheltenham Festival. On this day in 2013, five subsequent Cheltenham Festival winners ran. And it is not just on today’s winners that you need to focus.

The Gala Retail Spring Juvenile Hurdle has been a particularly good pointer to the Triumph Hurdle of late. In 2011, Unaccompanied won today’s race before the Moyglare Stud’s mare went on to Cheltenham and finished second to Zarkandar in the Triumph Hurdle.

In 2012, Countrywide Flame finished third behind Hisaabaat in today’s race, then went to Cheltenham four and a half weeks later and won the Triumph Hurdle, when he was chased home by the same Hisaabaat.

In 2013, Our Conor won the Spring Hurdle before going to Cheltenham and running out one of the most impressive winners of the Triumph Hurdle that there has ever been. Second in the Spring Hurdle that year was Diakali, who finished fourth in the Triumph Hurdle, while back in fifth place was Flaxen Flare, who went to the Cheltenham Festival and sprang a 25/1 shock in his first-time blinkers the Fred Winter Hurdle.

The Spring Hurdle was again pointing the way to the Triumph Hurdle last season. Tiger Roll, who finished second at Leopardstown, went to Cheltenham and won the Triumph Hurdle, while Guitar Pete, who won the Spring Hurdle, finished third in the Triumph. So in the last four years, today’s Grade 1 juvenile hurdle has produced three winners of the Triumph Hurdle, two seconds, one third and one fourth, and a winner of the Fred Winter Hurdle as a bonus.

Kalkir, favourite for today’s race, is already second favourite for the Triumph Hurdle. If he happens to run out an impressive winner of today’s race, it is probable that he will challenge Peace And Co for the favourite’s mantle, while victory for any other horse today would see them leapfrog many of their potential Cheltenham rivals in the Triumph Hurdle market.

The relationship that the Flogas Chase – the old Dr PJ Moriarty Chase – has with the RSA Chase at Cheltenham runs even deeper. Cooldine won both races in 2009 – he beat subsequent Arkle winner Forpadydeplasterer in the Flogas Chase – and Bostons Angel won both races in 2011. Jessica Harrington’s horse got home by a neck from Jessies Dream in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, when he had Magnanimity, who had finished second in the Flogas Chase, back in fourth place.

It was in 2010 that Weapon’s Amnesty chased Citizen Vic home at Leopardstown before going to Cheltenham and running out a seven-length winner of the RSA Chase, a race in which the same Citizen Vic was still travelling well in front before he fell fatally at the second last fence.

The Flogas Chase probably would have produced the 1-2-3 in the RSA Chase in 2013 had Boston Bob not fallen at the final fence at Cheltenham when in front. As it was, Lord Windermere, third in the Flogas behind Boston Bob, won the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, where he was chased home by Lyreen Legend, who had finished fourth in the Flogas.

Like several of his rivals in the Grade 1 novices’ chase today, favourite Valseur Lido has both the RSA Chase over three miles and the JLT Chase over an extended two and a half as potential Cheltenham Festival targets. Victory today would strengthen his prospects of victory in either. If he does not win, whatever does will be of immediate heightened interest for either of the Cheltenham Festival novice chases. It’s still all about potential with the novices.

The Deloitte Hurdle, run over the intermediate distance of two and a quarter miles, has had an impact on both championship novices’ hurdles at Cheltenham, the two-mile Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the extended two-and-a-half-mile Neptune Hurdle. In 2010, Dunguib won the Deloitte, then finished third in the Supreme. In 2011, Oscars Well won the Deloitte, and probably would have won the Neptune had he not lost his hind legs at the back of the final flight at Cheltenham, having jumped it in front.

In the last two years, however, things have worked out for the Deloitte Hurdle at Cheltenham. Two years ago, Champagne Fever won the Deloitte, then went to Cheltenham and won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, while last year his stable companion Vautour repeated the feat.

Alvisio Ville, trained, like the last two winners of the Deloitte, by Willie Mullins, was well backed during the week ante post for the Neptune Hurdle, and victory today would see his position at the top of the market strengthen further.

Strangely, the impact that today’s Hennessy Gold Cup has had on the Cheltenham Gold Cup has not been as strong as the impact that the supporting Grade 1 races have had on their sister Cheltenham races. In the 28-year history of the Hennessy – formerly the Vincent O’Brien Gold Cup – only two horses have completed the Hennessy/Cheltenham Gold Cup double: Jodami, who won at Cheltenham in 1993, the year that he won the first of his three Hennessys, and Imperial Call, who won both races in 1996.

That said, the Hennessy has not fared too badly of late as a Gold Cup pointer. Sir Des Champs almost completed the double two years ago, winning the Hennessy and then finishing second to Bobs Worth in the Gold Cup, while Lord Windermere finished sixth in the Hennessy last year before going to Cheltenham and landing the Blue Riband in a thriller.

A big run from any of the leading contenders today would see their Gold Cup odds slashed. Interestingly, of the eight runners in the Hennessy, only Texas Jack and Foxrock do not hold entries in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, it would not be surprising if, should one of those two horses happen to win today, connections used some of the €86,000 win prize money to pay the supplementary entry fee for the Gold Cup. The stats say that it could be money well spent.

© The Sunday Times, 8th February 2015