Coleman keen on Houblon's Hennessy prospects
Aidan Coleman, who has been one of the prime beneficiaries of AP McCoy's retirement, feels that Houblon Des Obeaux again has a live chance in tomorrow's Hennessy Gold Cup.
A native of Innishannon in mid-Cork, 27-year-old Coleman is careering towards a breakthrough century.
Having succeeded McCoy as the jockey of choice for John Ferguson's Godolphin cast-offs, he is already just 10 shy of the landmark figure, a remarkable feat given that his previous best for an entire season was 97. It was Coleman's partnership with Venetia Williams, though, that put the 2009 champion conditional on the map.
Tomorrow, they will seek to plunder their most valuable triumph together when last year's gallant Hennessy runner-up returns to Newbury.
"The only reason that Houblon Des Obeaux isn't a Grade One horse is because he is a little bit small," Coleman suggests of the 14/1 shot, which had a pipe-opener at Ascot last month.
"But that also makes his achievement of finishing second last year to Many Clouds - which went on to win the Grand National - under top weight all the more remarkable. To carry 11st 12lb and go so close was some effort; he has 11st 5lb on Saturday and that will be a massive help. Last season, he was also second to The Young Master at Ascot and to Coneygree in the Denman Chase, so he ran into a few good ones. Newbury is his track and I think he will run very well.
"It will be a hard race to win but, with Coneygree out, it opens things up a bit. I think Saphir Du Rheu is a particularly strong favourite, mind - he ticks all the boxes."
Coleman will also be reunited with Ferguson's Aqalim, on which he won at Cheltenham in April. "He was the highest rated English staying novice last season and ran very well on his return in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby," he says of the five-year-old.
"I'd expect him to come on a lot for that and I'd be very hopeful that he can give the likes of Cole Harden and Whisper a race. If he keeps going forward, there is no reason to suggest that he can't be competitive in these races."
Of the looming ton, the well-spoken, six-foot son of two teachers admits it was a target, albeit one that he didn't expect to have within his sights so soon. "I would have been very disappointed if, barring injury, I didn't ride 100 winners this term," he says frankly, "but everything has really just fallen into place. It was the big target and we're nearly there - although you never know in the world of a jump jockey!"
Mouse Morris's First Lieutenant and Willie Mullins's Urano will represent the raiders in the Hennessy. Mark Enright will partner First Lieutenant in the famous £200,000 handicap, with Gigginstown Stud's retained rider Bryan Cooper opting to ride the Henry de Bromhead-trained Identity Thief in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
Ruby Walsh will join Cooper in the Newcastle Grade One. He is pencilled in to ride Mullins's 7/4 favourite Wicklow Brave, which, like Identity Thief (8/1), was supplemented for the two-miler at a cost of £4,500.