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Merry King to rule in Hennessy for McCoy and O'Neill

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Our Sam ridden by jockey Barry Geraghty jumps the last on the way to victory in the Inkerman London Novices' Hurdle at Newbury yesterday. Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Our Sam ridden by jockey Barry Geraghty jumps the last on the way to victory in the Inkerman London Novices' Hurdle at Newbury yesterday. Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

PA

Our Sam ridden by jockey Barry Geraghty jumps the last on the way to victory in the Inkerman London Novices' Hurdle at Newbury yesterday. Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Willie Mullins' Djakadam has been all the rage to provide an overdue fillip for Irish runners in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury today.

Earlier this week, he was backed into as low as 7/2, which is a crazy prize for a horse with his profile in a race of this nature. Sure, he has bundles of potential and might well prove thrown in off a mark of 142 for 10st 11lb.

Djakadam has now started to drift to a more sensible price in the region of 5/1 and the fact that Ruby Walsh is doing the steering is a huge plus, not to mention Mullins' insatiable form.

However, he has run just three times over fences and was undone by a real novice's mistake four-out in the JLT Novices' Chase at Cheltenham, where he simply got in too close and paid the ultimate price.

While experience will teach him to save himself in that situation, the problem here is that he may not be allowed the indulgence of learning.

Newbury is not an easy track to jump when the go as hard as they will early on in this ferociously competitive event.

If Djakadam doesn't get caught out early, he might get caught out again when the screw is being turned, with everything from the cross fence home tricky for a horse that has still to master jumping fences under pressure.

He is striving to become the first five-year-old to win the iconic three-miler, and he clearly has immense promise, to the point that Mullins apparently rates him as Gold Cup material.

Nevertheless, at this stage, having also never run beyond two miles and five furlongs, Djakadam has too much to prove to put too much faith in here.

The testing ground is one thing that we know he should have no problem with based on previous form, and an ability to cope with gruelling conditions will be crucial.

Most of the quality horses towards the top of the page don't appeal for one reason or another.

Last year's winner Triolo D'Alene, the RSA Chase runner-up Smad Place and Ballynagour haven't run this term, so this will be a real slog for them.

The 2013 runner-up Rocky Creek might not be suited by such an extreme test, for all that he and Paul Nicholls' other runner Unioniste are respected.

Monbeg Dude is worth considering as an each-way option at up to 25/1. A Welsh National winner the season before last, he relishes a dour examination, and there was an awful lot to like about his comeback second at Chepstow last month.

Of the 19 runners, Merry King might be the most reliable win option off bottom weight of 10st 7lb at up to 14/1. Neither Jonjo O'Neill nor AP McCoy have ever won the £175,000 showpiece, but O'Neill's niche market has always been indomitable staying chasers.

A year ago, Merry King finished fifth in this, when the prevailing good ground was just too quick. He didn't have the quality to play a serious part in the conditions, but he kept going, and he backed that up with sound efforts in the Welsh National (fifth), the Peter Marsh Chase (third) and the Scottish Grand National (fourth).

On his recent Ascot reappearance, he was a fine third to race-fit What A Warrior, with the sixth home, Grandads Horse, winning since back at Ascot. Merry King is sure to come on for that, and he gets in here off the same mark of 138, which is two pounds lower than he ran off 12 months ago.

That gives him a real life. While a win ratio over fences of 1-12 isn't great, he is consistent, and the prospect of this turning into a war of attrition will suit.

Moreover, at seven years of age, Merry King can still improve, so he is fancied to deliver an overdue win in the great race for O'Neill and McCoy.

Ruby Walsh rides Dushrembrandt for Robert Tyner earlier, but the McCoy-ridden Carrigmoorna Rock might be the pick of the shrewd Kinsale outfit's raiders. Second to Morning Run at Down Royal, the daughter of King's Theatre is a classy sort that will run to the line in the novices' hurdle.

In a poor edition of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, Nicholls' Irving really should have too much quality in the deep ground for Mullins' Arctic Fire, while Indian Castle is also worth a look in the Rehearsal Chase under Brian Hughes.

Ian Williams' charge is a proper mud-lover that ran well before blowing up in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Best bet: Irving

Watching Brief

Vautour really was flawless over his fences at Navan on Sunday.

His even temperament, high cruising speed and clean jumping suggest that he is best equipped to lead Willie Mullins' Arkle Trophy team. He is now 3/1 from 6/1 for the Grade One, having been trimmed again after Un De Sceaux's Thurles tumble.

Previously, there was a suggestion that Vautour would defect to the longer JLT event to make way for Un De Sceaux in the Arkle. At this stage, it's impossible to call it one way or another, but it was frustrating to see Un De Sceaux crash when he did.

He was electric at his fences, and listened to Ruby Walsh when he was asked to take a blow and shorten up at the final fence first time round.

The relentless front-runner simply got caught out by an innocuous mistake, prompting some to reiterate that Cheltenham might not suit, and he was pushed out to 6/1 for the Arkle.

Historically, though, Prestbury Park's undulations have suited such bold types, as it can be hard to peg back a horse that steals lengths in the air. For now, Un De Sceaux remains a potentially formidable Arkle prospect - on the proviso that there is at least some cut in the ground.

Irish Independent