Things We Learned » Hennessy thoughts

Hennessy thoughts

Something strange happened in last year’s Hennessy Gold Cup: the performances of two of the strongly-fancied horses who were making their seasonal debuts in the race fell below expectations.

Smad Place wasn’t desperately disappointing, he finished fifth, but he finished a tired horse, he raced as if he was in need of the run.  Djakadam ran below expectations, and he proved later on, in the Thyestes Chase and in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, that those expectations were well founded.

Indeed, Houblon Des Obeaux, a 50/1 exposed-looking chaser, was the only horse who was making his seasonal debut who managed to finish in the first four in last year’s race.

There is a trade-off with handicap chases.  There is a balance to be struck between having the experience and the fitness on your side, and not revealing the magnitude of your rate of improvement to the handicapper.  This is especially true in the Hennessy, a big-value, big-distance handicap chase that comes up relatively early in the season, and it is of most relevance to second-season chasers, whose potential for progression is often significant.

It makes sense not to run before the Hennessy, to make your seasonal debut in the Newbury race, so that you can race off the mark with which you finished your novice season, so that the handicapper does not have the opportunity to re-assess you.

Many Clouds won the Colin Parker Intermediate Chase at Carlisle on his debut last season, and the 7lb that the handicapper gave him could have scuppered his Hennessy pretensions.  As it happened, it didn’t.  As it happened, he was still well-in.  He won the National off a 16lb higher mark.

The outcome of last year’s race seems to have fostered the notion that you need to have a prep run before the Hennessy.  Alan King has given Smad Place a run this year and he is on track for the Hennessy (on the upside, the handicapper left him on his mark of 155), Willie Mullins has given Vroum Vroum Mag a run, and she might be on track.  The top 12 in the ante post market have all had a run this season, but history tells us that you don’t have to.

Trabolgan won the Hennessy on his seasonal debut 10 years ago, State Of Play won it on his, Denman’s two Hennessy wins were achieved on his seasonal debut, Diamond Harry won it on his seasonal debut, Bobs Worth won it on his.  Six of the last 10 Hennessy winners were making their seasonal debut in the race, so don’t be put off if you haven’t seen a Hennessy contender race yet this season.

Eddery a master in the saddle

When you think of Pat Eddery, you don’t think of the man who succumbed to the terrible disease to which his daughter Natasha referred so eloquently on Wednesday, you think of the 11-time champion jockey, the 4,633-time winner, smooth as a seal on the back of a horse, strong as an ox in a finish.

So which ones stand out for you?  Grundy?  Detroit?  Storm Bird?  Your answer will probably be determined by your vintage, and possibly your nationality.  Pebbles?  Zafonic?  Dancing Brave?  Probably Dancing Brave whatever your vintage, whatever your nationality.

One of his best was one of his last, Reel Buddy in the 2003 Sussex Stakes, and not one of his most high-profile.  The 2003 Sussex Stakes was a strange race, run at a fast pace on holding ground, and Eddery excelled.  Reel Buddy was a tricky customer, he had talent but he had never won a race beyond Group 3 standard, and he was sent off at 20/1 for the Sussex Stakes that year.

Eddery allowed them at it up front through the early stages of the race, allowed his horse drift back in the field.  Passing the five-furlong pole he was stone last of the nine runners, three lengths behind the second last horse and he must have been about 10 lengths behind the leader.

Still last passing the two-furlong marker, Eddery didn’t panic.  He moved his horse towards the far side in behind runners, then asked him for his effort.  That was the tactical nous right there.  Then came his strength in a finish.  At the age of 51, just months before his retirement from the saddle, he squeezed every last drop of energy and willingness from his partner, getting him up to win by a head from Statue Of Liberty, with a short head, a neck and a neck separating the four horses who chased him home.

Punchestown prizes

So you wonder why there are not as many Irish horses at Cheltenham this weekend as used to be the case?

Here’s the thing.  The Craddockstown Chase tomorrow has a total prize fund of €42,000, while the Arkle Trial Chase at Cheltenham has a value of £32,000.  The Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown tomorrow is worth €40,000, the Steel Plate and Sections Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham yesterday was worth £23,000.  The prize money at Punchestown is very good, and it is a drive as opposed to a boat away for Irish trainers.

Great start

The great start that owner Barry Connell and trainer Alan Fleming have made to the season continues.  Three winners and a second from five runners at Naas two weeks ago was followed by one winner from one runner back at the Kildare track last Saturday: Gwencily Berbas, who was given a well-judged ride from the front by Adrian Heskin.

They have a relatively small team on The Curragh, but they have some exciting young prospects among them.  It could be a really interesting season ahead.

Thought for the week

Can we not follow more than 10?

© The Irish Field, 14th November 2015