Invictus has star quality to seal spoils in Gold rush
Lord Windermere and Prince De Beauchene lead a serious Irish challenge in what looks sure to be yet another spellbinding edition of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury this afternoon.
A proper old-fashioned staying chaser that is certain to improve as the season progresses, Jim Culloty's brave RSA Chase victor Lord Windermere will relish this three-and-a-quarter-mile stamina test.
However, notwithstanding that he was initially campaigned over inadequate trips last term, you'd struggle to argue that he shows his very best form first time out.
When you factor in that his weight shot up to 11st 8lb when Tidal Bay defected, the magnitude of his task increases considerably.
Lord Windermere might still be good enough to oblige for Dougie Costello – who takes the ride after Robbie McNamara broke his collarbone in a schooling fall yesterday morning – but there is little juice left in odds of 8/1 now.
For all that Prince De Beauchene is respected for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, he is hard to fancy at 10 years of age. He has 11st 9lb for 155, yet has never won off higher than 138.
Last year's terrier-like Reynoldstown hero Rocky Creek has obvious claims, and Katenko is another unknown quantity that has a lot of weight.
In truth, you could make a case for a raft of the 21 runners, but the two to take on the field with are Invictus and Our Father.
David Pipe's Our Father is always at his best first time up. Last term, he had White Star Line back in third when pulverising a useful field with an exhilarating round of jumping on his chasing debut at Cheltenham in November, form that he failed to fully replicate again.
Still, there is little doubting that Our Father excels fresh. On his best form, a mark of 147 for 11st 1lb is fair, so he should at least make the frame.
Invictus, though, is the standout option on his return from a 651-day lay-off. A runaway winner of his first two chasing starts, his sole defeat over fences came when he spread a plate at Cheltenham in January last year, after which he went on to beat none other than Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti in comprehensive fashion in the 2012 Reynoldstown at Ascot.
While Bobs Worth made a mistake two-out that day, Invictus had his measure at the time, and he has bundles of scope to improve on just his fifth chasing start. Of course, that lack of experience is also a possible negative, but his jumping has always looked extremely fluent.
The other major question mark is whether he can possibly be fit enough to win a race as unrelenting as this after such a long absence. Obviously it is a big ask, but Alan King knows the time of day, and he has reportedly taken Invictus to Newbury for two racecourse gallops.
In short, King wouldn't attempt such an audacious feat without good reason, which is simply that his Flemensfirth seven-year-old is ridiculously well treated.
Off 145 for 10st 13lb, Invictus finds himself rated alongside modest sorts like Terminal and Theatre Guide, yet he might easily be considered the single most talented horse in the race at this point in time.
On the forecast good ground that suits him ideally, he is trusted to be sharp enough to prove as much under Robert Thornton. Top-priced odds of 10/1 are just too big to pass up.
Mullins and Walsh also have the four-year-old Vicky De L'Oasis in the Listed Mares' Hurdle. She could take a lot of beating, but Nicky Henderson's Free Thinking is preferred.
A beautifully bred filly, Sam Waley-Cohen's mount is a year older than Mullins' filly, and slammed a subsequent winner by 13 lengths on her smooth hurdle bow at Ludlow recently.
Another worth consideration is Harry Fry's Violin Davis in the Bet365 Handicap Chase. Noel Fehily's mount should come on a lot for her tame return at Carlisle, and she gets in here off the same mark that she last won off at Taunton in April.
Crucially, Violin Davis likes a bit of decent ground and was an impressive winner at the Berkshire course earlier in the year.
Best Bet: Free Thinking