The prestigious Hennessy Gold Cup takes place this Saturday at Newbury, with all the big guns represented we can expect a mouth-watering clash in one of the most eagerly awaited handicaps of the season.
Paul Nicholls reclaimed top spot in the trainers championship last weekend with a pair of stunning victories for his King George and Gold Cup hopes Al Ferof (Amlin chase) and Silvinaco Conti (Betfair Chase) and he looks set to be doubly represented by Rocky Creek and Black Thunder.
After finishing a superb fifth in last season’s Grand National, Rocky Creek ran a cracker on his reappearance to finish second in a Grade 1 at Down Royal earlier this month.
His owner Andy Stewart feels that run will have put him spot on: “To start this season, we took him to Down Royal for a Grade 1 race, so the handicapper couldn’t get to us and, overweight and unfit, he came a commendable second.
“He’ll be spot on at Newbury and I’m looking forward to it enormously.”
Willie Mullins also blew the cobwebs off a couple of stable stars as Vautour and Faugheen both recorded impressive victories and he can now approach this week’s feature race in a confident fashion as he seeks to win a race that has so far eluded him with the heavily supported ante-post favourite Djakadam.
The five-year-old’s form is hardly standout but he is a horse with a huge amount of untapped potential and the master trainer must feel he has found the answer to him judging on the amount of money that has contracted his price from 10-1 into 4-1.
That said, a five-year-old has never won this and his price is much too short for such a competitive race.
Seven Barrows trainer Nicky Henderson looks set to field last year’s winner Triolo D’alene along with Sandown Gold Cup winner Hadrian’s Approach, who incidentally unseated in the corresponding race last year.
Both horses are reported to be fit and well after a racecourse gallop at Kempton but with the Henderson yard yet to hit top form both can be overlooked.
Smad Place, trained by Alan King, is the 7-1 second favourite and he must go there with every chance after a superb first season chasing which culminated in a second place finish in the RSA at the Cheltenham Festival.
The loveable grey is ultra consistent and is guaranteed to be there or thereabouts coming to the final fence but may just find one too good again.
Hopefully the one that he may find too good is Fingal Bay.
His trainer Philip Hobbs has never made any secret of how good he thinks this horse is and for a man of such a humble abode, he is worth listening to when he throws superlatives around.
In a career littered with injuries Fingal Bay has still managed to win first time out in all four seasons he has ran and with this his first run of the season he is guaranteed to give his running.
A winner of eight of his 12 starts to date, including a win off top weight in the Pertempts handicap hurdle at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, Fingal Bay will certainly take some pegging back especially as his in form trainer has targeted the race for a long time.
Hobbs has no concerns about the ground either and believes his stable star will cope with the likely soft ground better than most.
He said: “He’s in very good order and a high-class horse.
“To win a race off top weight at Cheltenham proved that. This has been the target for a long time and I haven’t even looked at the other entries, so I can’t say who I fear at this stage. I don’t think the handicapper has been lenient, but he’s on a workable mark.
“ I’m not in the slightest bit concerned about the ground. Soft would be grand and although you never want heavy, he’d cope with it better than most.”
Fingal Bay 8-1, Hennessy Gold Cup, Newbury, Saturday.