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Friday December 17

Fri 18 December 2015

The string on the Heath.

The form of the Hennessy Gold Cup has yet to be tested, but given it was run at a frenetic gallop with the finish dominated by well-handicapped horses, there are plenty of reasons to think it will prove as bombproof as one would expect.

The winner, Smad Place, could provide a true acid test next Saturday should connections decide to contest next the King George, but back in much calmer waters tomorrow I think Fingal Bay will take all the beating in the 3m chase at Ascot (3.00).

Philip Hobbs’ team continue in superb form and the nine-year-old ran a fine race in the Hennessy, keeping tabs on the winner for most of the journey only to prove leg weary late as the breakneck pace took its toll. He’s very generously been dropped 2lb for that run, leaving him 6lb below the hurdles mark off which he triumphed in the Pertemps Final at the 2014 Festival.

He is yet to prove as good over fences as he was over hurdles, but the jumping blemishes and broken blood vessels that characterised his early career over the larger obstacles have looked a thing of the past this season. He should be clear favourite to beat this field in my opinion and the 6-1 makes lots of appeal.

I didn’t like the claims of Saphir Du Rheu in the Hennessy three weeks ago, but I’m particularly keen on his chance reverting to hurdles in the Long Walk earlier on the Ascot card (2.25).

He was bang in the firing line at Newbury until a mistake down the back straight knocked the stuffing out of him, and the lumps of weight he was forced to concede told late as he faded into fifth.

With his jumping frailties still evident, connections have opted for a return to hurdling and his form over timber last season was top notch, beating the re-opposing Reve De Sivola in the Cleeve, admittedly receiving 4lb, before running second to Cole Harden in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Reve De Sivola has won this race for the past three years, but at the age of 10 his career is not on the same trajectory as the progressive Saphir Du Rheu, and I expect him to confirm the form despite the pull in the weights.

Furthermore, I struggle to see how Thistlecrack can be rated 161 having won a Long Distance Hurdle that fell apart, and he has plenty to find on form with Saphir Du Rheu for me, despite the pair boasting the same official rating.

In the previous contest, La Vaticane looks to have excellent claims of opening her account on these shows in the 2m3f handicap chase (2.35). She found two miles inadequate on her reappearance at Cheltenham, but David Pipe’s horses were under a cloud at that stage, while she travelled powerfully over 2m6f at Newbury only not to get home.

This trip looks like it could be her optimum and Pipe’s team are in great nick now. I do fear the Venetia Williams-trained Marcilhac, who is on a very good mark if fully wound up off the back of a long break, but I’m pretty confident this is a lesser race than the one La Vaticane contested at Newbury and 9-2 is fair.

Lastly, Final Assault was well-touted for the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle last month and he looked a huge threat to all turning for home. He couldn’t land a blow in the closing stages, finishing fourth, but he didn’t enjoy the run of the race like the winner there and he can make amends in the Tommy Whittle Chase (2.40) at Haydock.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained Spookydooky has been put in favourite, but he’s 9lb higher than when scoring at Newbury and Richard Johnson got a stick ban for his exertions in the saddle that day.

The likes of Sun Cloud and Seventh Sky don’t hold too many secrets from the handicapper, and O’Maonlai has stamina to prove over this trip in the ground, so Final Assault is a pretty confident selection at 5-1.

I don’t have any opinion on the Ladbroke and that might be pertinent, because if we’re looking to get out of trouble in a 21-runner handicap run in the gloom then things have been pretty bleak!

Have a fantastic weekend.


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