Diamond Harry comes of age to outshine Denman
The packed grandstand did its best to roar Denman home in the Hennessy Gold Cup here, and if courage alone was enough to win races then perhaps it might have worked. Anticipation quickly turned to appreciation, however, both for Denman's courage and the potential of Diamond Harry, which was cantering alongside the favourite from four fences out and ran on well to beat Burton Port with Denman third.
When weight and youth are in the opposite corner, there is only so much that any horse can do. Guts got Denman home in last year's Hennessy, but this was a better race, with several young chasers in the field with the potential to contest the Gold Cup in March and nearly two stone less on their back. Diamond Harry was one of them, and won so easily that a big run at the Festival in three months' time is now a distinct possibility.
Whether Cheltenham will suit Diamond Harry as much as Newbury remains to be seen, but he won with real authority. Daryl Jacob, stable jockey to Nick Williams, the winning trainer, was soon close to the lead and travelling well, and barely moved a muscle until the run to the last fence. Burton Port ran on well from off the pace, but the winner was simply too strong. Diamond Harry was quoted as low as 8/1 for the Gold Cup after the win, although double-figure quotes are also available and look more realistic, with Imperial Commander and Kauto Star among those likely to form the opposition at Cheltenham.
"He's a young horse and he's still very unexposed," Jacob said. "Denman is getting on a bit now, but the performance he's put up today, I couldn't believe it. He was alongside me four out and even two out he was there or thereabouts. But if we couldn't beat Denman today we were never going to beat him.
"I was thinking of Kieran Kelly when I came past the post. He was one of the greatest friends I've ever had in racing, and he told me to come over and give it a try in England. He had a [fatal] fall at Kilbeggan in 2003 and every day when I ride a winner I think of him."
Williams does not have anything like the ammunition that trainers such as Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson can command, but his Devon yard now features quite regularly at jumping's major venues and Diamond Harry could be a chaser to take him to the next level.
"My wife does all the training programmes and I just choose the races, so it's really all down to her," Williams said. "I could see that Daryl hadn't moved coming into the straight, and he looked comfortable all through the race.
"He's not an obvious Cheltenham horse, he's always done best on flat tracks like here and Haydock, but I suppose he has to go down that route."
Peddlers Cross is the new favourite for the Champion Hurdle with some bookmakers after he accounted for the current champion, Binocular, in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. Donald McCain's five-year-old is now unbeaten in six starts over hurdles, and the most encouraging aspect of yesterday's performance was that he looked sure to improve with a stronger gallop. The winner only started to fly the obstacles when the pace increased in the home straight, and though Starluck loomed up as soon as Binocular had been beaten off, his challenge petered out as Peddlers Cross pounded towards the line.
"I'm sure the others will improve, but so will we," McCain said. "This was the first test, and we know we've got a horse good enough to go now. When you've never had one before, you never quite know. We're a big yard now, but we're certainly not the biggest, and this is a horse to dream with."
Big Buck's made a smooth return to action with victory in the staying hurdle at 2/7, and remains 4/5 favourite to win the World Hurdle at Cheltenham for the third year running.