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Friday, 28 November 2014

Hennessy Gold Cup Preview

The Hennessy Gold Cup hasn’t had a habit of throwing up long-priced winners in recent years, but Madison Du Berlais (25/1) in 2008 and Triolo D’Alene (20/1) last year provide cause for optimism, as far as this column is concerned. Of course, the Hennessy Gold Cup is always competitive and particularly so this year, so we’ve had a look at a few further down the betting that could belie their generous odds.

Ballynagour (25/1) didn’t help his handicap mark when hacking up in the Byrne Group Plate, over 2 miles 4 furlongs, at the Cheltenham Festival, but has run creditably in defeat on both subsequent starts in Grade 1 company. A line through his Punchestown conqueror, Sizing Europe, gives him the beating of Rocky Creek – a top-priced 10/1 at the time of writing – so, if he arrives fit and well for his first start since April, he’s clearly no forlorn hope. He’s done most of his winning with plenty of cut in the ground and, having won a point-to-point over 3 miles earlier in his career, shouldn’t fail through lack of stamina.

A similar comment applies to Houblon Des Obeaux (33/1) who, twelve months or so ago, was beating subsequent Hennessy Gold Cup winner Triolo D’Alene (gave 3lb) by 9 lengths in the United House Gold Cup, over 3 miles, at Ascot. He could finish only sixth, beaten 21 lengths, behind the same horse in the Hennessy itself but, having won on soft and heavy going, should be much better suited by underfoot conditions this time around. He contested the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Betfred Bowl at Aintree, albeit without distinction, last season and should find this much easier. His jumping can leave something to be desired, on occasion, but that’s factored into his price and, as a tough, out-and-out stayer, he looks decent value.

At the other end of the weights, Via Sundown (33/1) has won three of his four starts over fences and won convincing on his reappearance, over 2 miles 5½ furlongs on heavy going, over hurdles at Exeter earlier this month. His previous defeat of Benvolio at Fontwell in February looks better in light of that one’s fifth to the subsequently disqualified The Young Master in the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton three weeks ago and he, too, has winning form over 3 miles on soft and heavy going. Three six-year-olds have won the Hennessy Gold Cup in the last ten years, so the statistics aren’t entirely against him and he’s a progressive type lurking on a relatively low weight.

As usual, the Hennessy Gold Cup promises to be a fascinating and informative contest. For what they’re worth, our three against the field this week are, in order of preference, Ballynagour (25/1 with Sky Bet and Sporting Bet), Houblon Des Obeaux (33/1 generally) and Via Sundown (33/1 generally). Win or lose, enjoy what is often considered the sternest test of jumping ability outside the Grand National, and good luck!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Paddy Power Gold Cup Preview

Traditionally, the market has proved a tremendous guide to the outcome of the Paddy Power Gold Cup, with the winner typically a well-fancied, progressive young chaser from a southern stable. However, history is in the past, as they say, so we’ve decided to look beyond the first four in the market for two or three we think could go well at decent odds.

If only for pure devilment, we always like to have a look at the complete outsider of the field and, this week, it’s actually possible to make a case for Orpheus Valley (66/1). Horse racing statisticians will tell you, quite rightly, that horses aged 10 years or older and horses trained in Ireland have a very poor record in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. Consequently, Orpheus Valley, an 11-year-old trained by Thomas Gibney in Co. Meath, is apparently on a hiding to nothing, but his win over 2 miles 5 furlongs at Punchestown in April was an excellent effort and, even off a 9lb higher mark, may be capable of making his presence felt, especially if allowed a soft lead. He jumps well and acts on heavy going so, if the forecast heavy rain gets into the ground, he can lead the field a merry dance.

Cedre Bleu (40/1), now in the care of Charlie Mann, went off the boil after finishing second, beaten 4½ lengths, behind Double Ross over 2 miles 5 furlongs on the New Course at Cheltenham last January, but isn’t impossibly handicapped on his best form. In fact, he can race off the same handicap mark as when second, beaten 1¼ lengths, behind Anquetta at Market Rasen last May on his final start for Paul Nicholls and should strip fitter for his reappearance in a decent race at Wetherby two weeks ago. He hardly leaps off the page as a readymade winner-in-waiting, but he wouldn’t be the first horse to improve for a change of scenery and he has a squeak, especially if the going deteriorates.

Another horse discarded by Paul Nicholls between last season and this, Edgardo Sol (25/1), was restricted to hurdles after jumping poorly on his seasonal debut over fences at Aintree last October. However, the son of useful jumps sire Kapgarde made a fair, if unspectacular, debut over fences for Emma Lavelle on the same course three weeks ago and may be capable of building on that effort. A French import, he first ran over fences as a four-year-old, but he’s still only seven, so it’s too soon to be writing him off just yet.

The Paddy Power Gold Cup is, as ever, hugely competitive, with plenty of activity at the head of the market. However, that’s not what we’re about, so our three against the field this week are, in order of preference, Edgardo Sol (25/1 generally), Cedre Bleu (40/1 with Sky Bet, Betvictor and Stan James) and Orpheus Valley (66/1 with Bet365, Sky Bet and Betvictor). Win or lose, enjoy the race and good luck!