The old Hennessy Gold Cup, now the Ladbrokes Trophy, is one of my favourite races. I enjoy trying to figure it out. This year, the unusually decent going has made this puzzle a bit harder.
In recent times we’ve got used to soft ground from around now until March. I have no comprehensive data on it, but good going just seems a rarity in jumping these days. There have been just two Hennessys run on good in the past 15 years.
The only runners tomorrow whose best, or joint best performance* has been on good ground are:
Kildisart has been running well, but I’ve had a costly time following him. Still, this is the best ground he’s raced on since his last victory, a solid win in a Grade 3 at Aintree, and he ran really well in his seasonal pipe opener over hurdles. This looks like a long term plan, and with the ground coming right, trainer Pauling can have no excuses if he doesn’t win this one. The yard is in decent enough form with 2 winners and 5 placed in the last week.
Mister Malarky is a hard horse to catch right, but good ground could be the key to him. The Tizzard stable has won 2 of the last 4 runnings of this (3rd last year with Elegant Escape) and I’d fancy this one over their other – Copperhead – whose best form so far has been on soft. Mister Malarky is blinkered for the first time.
Secret Investor must have good ground. His trainer says that and so does the formbook. He’s been highly consistent when getting good ground and has run his two best races stepped up in trip from the 20f at which he was plying his trade for a while. He went with enthusiasm at Chepstow last time and impressed me, bar his jumping at times. He edged a bit right at a few, but that didn’t bother me quite so much as seeing him get in close to some as he tired. He did this at Newbury too when second to Native River, a performance all the more commendable given a less than perfect round of jumping.
His enthusiasm last time bordered on keenness as he led throughout. I can’t see Cobden trying those tactics tomorrow, as he’d burn out. But settling the horse in such a big pack could cost him with concentration and rhythm. He has a good engine, but I can’t back him for this.
Potterman who was 2nd to Secret Investor in that Chepstow race is one who has caught my eye lately. He’s in cracking form and will be rattling fit, will enjoy the ground and the long straight to wind up to a full finish. But his jumping can be a bit fiddly, even though he’s safe enough. He is 5lbs well in (due to go up by 5 after this) but I’m just not sure he is quite good enough for this, though it’s a tough call to leave him out.
Cloth Cap is one who, despite being winless for two years, always seems to be tipped and backed. Only twice over fences has he started at double figure odds. But he will appreciate the ground. He’s just not for me, though good luck if you’ve backed him.
Well, onto those whose best has been seen on softer ground. I thought Vinndication ran a magnificent race at Cheltenham in March when giving 22lbs to The Condtional, 9lbs to Kildisart (2nd) and 11lbs to Discorama (3rd). With a clean round of jumping Vinndication would probably have won it. He seems to do best when David Bass asks him up, but Bass mostly let him fiddle round. What that race should have done was put to bed the theory that Vinndication is best right handed.
First time out this season Vinndication started fav for the Charlie Hall, and although he jumped better there at Wetherby (Bass much more active this time) he was on and off the bridle, only seeming to come properly alive much too late. He has run just once on good ground, winning a bumper. Although he seems to have been around a long time, Vinndication’s had just 7 runs over fences and only 3 of those have been at staying trips. He’s perfectly entitled to be adjusting and improving still. If it wasn’t for those jumping niggles I’d be nominating him with a high degree of confidence. He is still my joint selection in the hope that good ground might help his confidence when jumping. He also wear cheekpieces for the first time, and they could sharpen his fencing. Betfair offer 6/1 to 6 places making Vinndication a solid EW bet.
My saver is the only one giving weight to Vinndication – Ballyoptic. I cannot understand why he is 80/1 here (and a crazy 169/1 on Betfair in their win market). Like Vinndication, he has class about him and has run well in some very good races. He won a Grade 1 and a Grade 3 over hurdles and two Grade 2s over fences. He is 10 now, and is entitled to have his best days behind him. But he ran the best race of his career only 9 months ago when dotting up at Ascot.
He disappointed in his first outing this season when pulling up in the Charlie Hall (which he won last year), but his off days lately have been few and far between. He ran 5 times last season, winning 3 (the other 2 were The Betfair Chase and The Becher Chase). His best runs have been on soft ground but he has handled good ground very well in the past, notably when just touched off in the Scottish Grand National. As this blog concentrates on value, and given his mad price, I need to make Ballyoptic joint-top best bet EW with Vinndication. And if you have a Betfair Exchange account, please have £2 on him in the win market.
Of the others, my old friend Beware The Bear will give them all a fright if on his best behaviour! It is a big if, though.
3.00 Newbury: Vinndication EW to 6 places at 6/1, and Ballyoptic EW to 6 places at 80/1 – both Betfair Sportsbook.
Whatever you bet, good luck. If you’re backing one of mine, the usual warning, I tip for fun. Don’t bet more than you’d spend on any ‘leisure’ purchase (assuming it’s not a timeshare).
All the best.
*Any time I cite performances or ratings I am talking about Racing Post Ratings, which are different from the BHA official ratings.