Frisco Depot to despatch Irish raiders
A full 10 years after Be My Royal passed the post first before later being disqualified on testing positive for a banned substance, the prospect of a first legitimate Irish triumph in the Hennessy Gold Cup since 1980 is far from forlorn.
The raiding delegation in the prestigious Newbury handicap stands at three, comprising the Gigginstown Stud pair First Lieutenant and Magnanimity, and Tom Gibney's Irish Grand National hero Lion Na Bearnai. It is as strong a challenge as we have had in recent years.
First Lieutenant is a pound better off with his Cheltenham Festival conqueror Bobs Worth for a two-and-a-half-length deficit. Second to Kauto Stone in Down Royal's opening Grade One, Mouse Morris' Presenting seven-year-old should continue to improve.
Bryan Cooper got a fine tune out of First Lieutenant in the North, so it is interesting that he sticks with him now, rather than ride Magnanimity for his boss Dessie Hughes. At around 10/1 following considerable support, his price still looks fair as an each-way contender.
While Magnanimity also has some appeal off a low weight now that he steps up in trip having plugged on for second behind Sizing Europe at Clonmel, the overall strength of his form is questionable. He may not be quite good enough, but he is in much better form than he was last term, is potentially well handicapped and has a proper claimer up in Mark Enright.
Having won a Grade Two prior to Fairyhouse, Lion Na Bearnai remains progressive despite his 10 years. Still, his fitness for this three-and-a-quarter-mile slog must be taken on trust.
Moreover, on a line through Four Commanders, AP McCoy's mount Teaforthree is possibly better handicapped. Rebecca Curtis' charge should come on for his Cheltenham reappearance and, along with First Lieutenant and Magnanimity, is a live each-way option at around 14/1.
At up to 11/1, Frisco Depot is fancied to win. When you consider Dessie Hughes' prowess in handicaps this term – Raz De Maree's two 'National' wins and Tofino Bay's in the Troytown – his horses seem not to be handicapped to their best, and that impression is enhanced by Roberto Goldback's win on its first start for Nicky Henderson since leaving the Curragh yard.
Off a 12lb higher mark, that one doesn't appeal now, but Frisco Depot does. He ran in the same Ascot race on his first start for Charlie Longsdon since being purchased out of Hughes'. Although he fell two-out, he was in contention, having pulled his rider's arms out early on. Frisco Depot ought to cut a more relaxed figure for his in-form stable today.
If he does, there is every possibility that he is well handicapped off the same mark: he finished second to Flemenstar prior to winning in graded company in the spring. Depending on how low Sam Waley-Cohen can go, the lightly-raced eight-year-old could just have 9st 10lb to carry, and he is proven in the mud.
His rider's barren spell, with just one win since Long Run's 2011 Gold Cup triumph, hardly inspires confidence. Nonetheless, that is at least partly circumstantial, and Waley-Cohen has often proved himself capable of keeping it together on the big days.
In the novices' handicap chase, Godsmejudge gets the nod to prevail for Robert Thornton.
Rolling Aces and Seven Woods will doubtless be popular under Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty respectively, but Godsmejudge did little wrong when second to Safran De Cotte on his Stratford fencing bow recently. For a first start of the campaign, Alan King's six-year-old went down fighting, and you would expect him to be all the better for the experience now.
At Newcastle, Charles Byrnes' Trifolium faces his Supreme Novices' Hurdle conqueror Cinders And Ashes in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. The market suggests that he has his work cut out to overturn a length-and-a-half deficit, but the fact that he has undergone wind surgery since his tame Punchestown reappearance may prove significant.
Andrew Lynch's race-fit mount, a top-priced 9/2, might just give Cinders And Ashes plenty to think about on its first start of the season.
Best Bet: Trifolium