Thursday 14 December 2017

Pandorama has real shock value

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

While you couldn't rule out the possibility of it happening, Denman will need yet another career-best performance if he is to become the first horse to win three Hennessy Gold Cups this afternoon.

The 2010 line-up is arguably as strong as he has ever faced in the three-and-a-quarter mile Newbury showpiece, and his lung-bursting triumph over What A Friend 12 months ago means that he is now eight pounds higher on an almost unfathomable mark of 182.

As a result, he has to concede the maximum 26lb to no less than 14 opponents, 12 of which are, admittedly, out of the handicap.

Nonetheless, many of these rivals are classy, improving horses just out of their novice season, so the fact that they are technically a few pounds wrong isn't particularly off-putting. Denman's range of capabilities is well known at this stage and it would be unwise to read too much into his slightly erratic effort at Punchestown in April.

As he keeps proving, bouncing back from a lacklustre performance is not beyond him, while the vibes from the Paul Nicholls camp have been hugely encouraging. Still, Denman isn't getting any younger at 10, so it may be prudent to take him on, given that he is now 21lbs higher than when first carrying top weight to success in 2007.

Strictly on ratings, Diamond Harry, Weird Al and Burton Port are the most attractive options. All three were extremely smart novices and remain open to any amount of further improvement, while they are just four pounds wrong at the allotted weights.

However, Pandorama, officially rated another four pounds lower, but beaten only once in nine career starts, is favoured. Noel Meade's seven-year-old may well have achieved a higher rating had he the chance to do so earlier this year, but the Co Meath handler chose to put him away after he beat Weapon's Amnesty last Christmas.

Given that Weapon's Amnesty went on to slam Burton Port by seven lengths at Cheltenham, Pandorama, a three-time Grade One winner, could be absolutely thrown in off 10st.

As a dour stayer that loves soft ground and has the potential to go right to the very top, Paul Carberry's mount looks poised to record a first Irish win since 1980 in the prestigious handicap at an attractive offering of 8/1.

Earlier on the card, the in-form Paul Nicholls-Noel Fehily axis has an interesting chance with Nodforms Paula in the novices' handicap chase. This two-mile-six-furlong heat has the makings of a highly competitive event, with all bar one of the 14 runners placed in the first four on their last completed start.

In light of such competition, Nodforms Paula doesn't obviously jump off the page, given that it has never jumped a fence in public. That, though, might yet be to the seven-year-old's advantage, as he gets to compete off his hurdling mark of 119.

On the only occasion the son of Rashar ran off that rating, he was not given too hard a time of it on his first start for 18 months at Chepstow three weeks ago. He will come on for that now, and, as with most of Nicholls' horses, the switch to fences is a plus.

In the Intermediate Hurdle, Howard Johnson may have found a decent opportunity for Stormy Weather to get his season off the ground. A winner and two-time runner-up as a novice, the grey four-year-old finished his spring campaign with a solid fifth in the Fred Winter Hurdle at Cheltenham.

That effort came on unsuitable dry ground, so the return to slower conditions is in Stormy Weather's favour now, and he gets in off an ideal racing weight of 10st 4lb. With just four hurdling starts to his name, he should have scope to progress.

In the concluding handicap chase, Alesandro Mantegna gets the nod. A winner at Ffos Las in October, the five-year-old has since been second twice, most notably when marked jumping to the left cost him when chinned by Songe at Sandown.

He returns to a left-handed circuit here, so that may be enough for him to gain compensation.

Best bet: Nodforms Paula

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