Sunday 28 May 2017

Put your faith in Doubt to thwart Saphir's weighty claim

Trainer Paul Nicholls
Trainer Paul Nicholls

Wayne Bailey

Founded by Killavullen, Co Cork native Richard Hennessy in Cognac, France 250 years ago, Hennessy Brandy has had a long association with Ireland.

Indeed a fifth-generation descendent of Richard by the name of Kilian Hennessy sat on the board of the company until his death a few years ago at the age of 103.

Unfortunately, Ireland's connection with the race they sponsor, the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury (3.0), is not so remarkable and the last Irish-trained winner was Michael O'Brien's Bright Highway in 1980. That excludes, of course, Be My Royal which finished first in 2002 for Willie Mullins but was later disqualified.

Mouse Morris hopes to break a bad string of results for the raiders with First Lieutenant, which was third in this race behind Bobs Worth and Tidal Bay in 2012.

Value

But that seems like a long time ago now and the ten-year-old has gone 14 races without a win. When you also consider that no horse aged in double figures has won since 1981, early odds of 16/1 could hardly be described as great value.

Willie Mullins' Urano won a Listed Chase at Wexford recently, but it was a weak affair which attracted just four runners and I don't think we learned very much from it.

Urano ran a career best when second in this year's Kerry National at Listowel, but today's race is a whole different ball game and odds in the region of 20/1 are a fair reflection of his chances.

Despite the fact that ante-post favourite Coneygree won't make an appearance having failed to convince Mark Bradstock of his well-being at a schooling session on Tuesday, the home team is still extremely strong and this year's renewal features plenty of quality horses. So much so, it would be easy to make a case for half a dozen animals here.

Coneygree's absence has meant that the weights rose by 9lbs which leaves Saphir Du Rheu as the top-weight with a burden of 11st 12lbs.

A top-class staying hurdler, he had a stop-start introduction to fences last year for Paul Nicholls and returned to the smaller obstacles after a number of questionable performances - but he put any doubts about his chasing prowess to bed with a cracking win in the Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree, and followed up with a decisive victory in a small-field Listed Chase at Carlisle at the beginning of the month.

I've absolutely no doubt that he has a bright future ahead but I just can't be having him at 7/2 in a race which includes in-form stalwarts such as Bobs Worth and Smad Place.

But for all the big names in today's field, If In Doubt still catches the eye and if you ask me, the 7/1 about Philip Hobbs' gelding in the early markets is a fantastic deal. Admittedly, his jumping has always been a problem and he was lucky he wasn't brought down at the first fence in the Irish Grand National last time at Fairyhouse; a race in which he was eventually pulled up. Yet despite his constant errors, he's often delivered the goods and I thought his win in January's Skybet Chase at Doncaster under Tony McCoy was a definite turning point in his relatively light chasing career. He wasn't disgraced in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham and can only improve as he gains experience.

With the champ now retired, Barry Geraghty takes the reins and a bold bid is expected off what seems a manageable weight of 10st 12lbs.

In the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle (2.05), I'm going to grasp the nettle and back last year's winner Irving, priced at around 11/4. I must admit I've always distrusted this horse somewhat and felt he was talked up too much early in his career. But a wind operation in the summer seems to have worked wonders and in this betting game, you should always leave room for changing your mind about a horse.

Each-way

Stuart Crawford's Strongpoint looks overpriced around 14/1 and makes plenty of each-way appeal in the Grade B Easyfix Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse. Third in a valuable Grade A handicap at Punchestown in April off a mark of 130, he probably should have won a similar race at Perth in June off 133 but he left it a bit late to make his move and ended up third again.

He needed the run when finishing seventh in a Handicap Chase at Down Royal last month, and the handicapper has been more than fair by reducing his rating to 128.

Jockey Ger Fox claims another 3lbs and although the gelding is no spring chicken aged 11, I'm surprised to see him listed as one of the outsiders in the betting.

TODAY'S SELECTIONS

12.40 Fairyhouse: Strongpoint (e/w)

2.05 Newcastle: Irving

2.15 Fairyhouse: Good As Gold

2.25 Newbury: Cole Harden

2.40 Newcastle: Final Assault

3.0 Newbury: If In Doubt

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