Fingal can bounce back in Hennessy
Hobbs' stalwart has class to take Newbury feature off light weight
A yawning 35 years after Bright Highway's triumph for Michael O'Brien and Gerry Newman, two Irish contenders will tackle today's Hennessy Gold Cup.
Willie Mullins, whose Be My Royal passed the post in front in 2002 but was subsequently disqualified after testing positive for a prohibited substance, has another go at Newbury's £200,000 handicap with Urano.
While you could put nothing past the Closutton genius, it would be mildly surprising if Danny Mullins's mount were to prove good enough. The other raider is Mouse Morris's First Lieutenant, which ran a memorable race in the extended three-miler in 2012.
On that occasion, the triple Grade One winner threw some spectacular leaps en route to finishing third to Bobs Worth, which went on to win the Gold Cup and re-opposes again now. Both horses have live each-way chances.
They have plummeted in the ratings and showed plenty sparkle on their respective reappearances. At Aintree, Bobs Worth knuckled down to see off Simonsig over flights, and at Clonmel First Lieutenant ran a blinder behind the Gold Cup third, Road To Riches.
He was bang there jumping the last over an inadequate trip, so he should come on for the outing. Off a rating of 147 - 12lbs lower than in 2012 - he could make the frame at odds of up to 20/1 under Mark Enright. Bobs Worth is shorter at 6/1 but that is still reasonable value for him to place.
The favourite Saphir Du Rheu has a lot on under top weight and his closest market rival Smad Place tends to struggle in big fields. As ever, there is a host of horses with chances, but the one that appeals most is Fingal Bay. A Grade One-winning novice hurdler, Philip Hobbs' nine-year-old, a 14/1 shot here, bled when pulled up in this last year.
That seems to have been a once-off, so he is worth another go. A Cheltenham Festival winner over flights in 2014 off a mark of 148, he ran only once more last term, when still not quite himself at Exeter. However, there was a lot to like about Fingal Bay's return at Kempton, as he seemed to simply blow up behind Smad Place. Over a two-and-a-half-mile trip that is short of his best, he was six pounds wrong at the weights with the winner on official ratings, so he emerged with plenty credit.
Off a favourable mark of 147 for just 10st 7lb, he is now better off to the tune of eight pounds with Smad Place. Back over a more suitable trip with the benefit of a run, then, he is fancied to take a bit of beating under Richard Johnson.
Mullins's Wicklow Brave and Henry de Bromhead's Identity Thief contest the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle. It is conceivable that Wicklow Brave might have his day in the two-miler and that Identity Thief could step up to the plate.
Still, the overriding impression is that neither will have quite enough quality. Top Notch did lots right when second to Irving at Haydock last week and Belltor is another four-year-old with scope to do well, but it is hard to get away from Irving at his odds.
Last year's winner is a big as 3/1. While he is no Champion Hurdle horse, this sort of race suits him ideally, so he gets the nod to collect for a third time in three weeks.
Shaneshill made a highly satisfactory fencing bow at Thurles on Thursday.
Having been third in a point-to-point most of three years ago, the son of King’s Theatre has gone on to prove himself a horse of considerable calibre.
Second in the Champion Bumper and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the last two Cheltenham Festivals, he won a Grade One bumper at Punchestown.
In the Supreme, he split his Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Douvan and Sizing John, which was no mean feat. The chances are those two will stay over two miles, yet they are closest to Shaneshill in the betting for the JLT Novices’ Chase and the remainder weren’t nearly as good over hurdles.
It’s a long way off, of course, but the suspicion is that the 9/1 that can now be had about Shaneshill winning the JLT will look massive come March.
Significantly, his most impressive victory came over close to the 2m 5f trip when he slammed Outlander by 13 lengths at Fairyhouse in April. He was utterly professional at Thurles and right now the JLT looks tailor-made for him.