The Grade 3 Hennessy Gold Cup might be over three-and-a-quarter-miles but it remains a significant race for pinpointing possible live candidates for the marathon Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree in April. This year’s renewal of the November 29 Newbury contest is likely to prove no exception to that rule.
Many Clouds was an impressive winner of the Hennessy for trainer Oliver Sherwood and jockey Leighton Aspell, and has been introduced into a few ante-post lists for Aintree at around 25/1, but connections have already made it clear that they have the Cheltenham Gold Cup as their main target this season so he has to be considered an unlikely runner at this stage of proceedings.
Hennessy runner-up Houblon des Obeaux was beaten only three lengths and was conceding the winner 6lbs, so technically emerges at the best horse in the race. He has plenty going for him should trainer Venetia Williams - who sent out shock 100/1 scorer Mon Mome to win the John Smith’s Grand National back in 2009 – choose to direct her progressive stayer towards Aintree in the spring. Again, at this stage that is far from certain, and while he is offered to back at 130 for the 2015 Grand National with Betfair, his shrewd handler may well have other targets in mind for the time being.
Caption: Venetia Williams has sent a horse to victory in the Grand National before – can she do it again?
The third and fourth placed Hennessy Gold Cup runners however are both expected to be trained with a bid for “the world’s greatest steeplechase” in mind in the spring. Merry King gave Tony McCoy a great ride in the showcase Newbury event, never far from the decent pace set throughout the contest before being produced by the champion jockey to have every chance going to the final fence. Despite having bottom weight he couldn’t quicken with the eventual winner and runner-up, but they are two very good horses, and over a longer trip Merry King’s stamina will serve him well and he remains a genuine contender for the Grand National and may well have a pop at the Welsh equivalent first.
Fifth in the Hennessy last season, Merry King went on to occupy the same position behind Mountainous at Chepstow in the Welsh National, ran third in Haydock’s Peter Marsh Chase, then after a blip back at Haydock - when he failed to handle desperately heavy ground - ran a great race to be fourth in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr, behind Al Co. Already this season Jonjo O’Neill’s young stayer had confirmed his wellbeing when a good third behind What A Warrior in a very competitive Ascot handicap chase, and he can still be backed at up to 40/1 for the Grand National in the spring which is usually run on the decent ground that best suits the seven-year-old gelding.
Fourth home at Newbury was the Michael Scudamore-trained Monbeg Dude, winner of the 2012 Coral Welsh National where he got the better of a memorable duel over the final two fences with the gallant Teaforthree, who was conceding him plenty of weight. In the Hennessy, Monbeg Dude shaped very much like the out-and-out stayer he is, struggling to go the strong early gallop but then staying on nicely inside the final half-mile to come steaming through to grab fourth place, showing the benefit of his seasonal pipe-opener at Chepstow in October when he had been a good second to Victor’s Serenade.
Winner of the Grade 3 Majordomo Hospitality Handicap Chase at Cheltenham’s December fixture last season, Monbeg Dude went on to run at Aintree in April and put up a very good effort in finishing seventh of the 40 runners behind Pineau de Re, a solid performance considering he made a couple of serious mistakes in the last third of the race that must have knocked some of the stuffing out of him.
With that first experience of the Aintree fences under his belt it is reasonable to assume that the gelded son of Witness Box might well have a better idea of what awaits him next time at the Liverpool track and connections – including part-owner Mike Tindall, the former England rugby union star – are already dreaming of lining up again for the big one. Available to back at around the mark of 36 following his Newbury run, Monbeg Dude is generally a 33/1 shot in the ante-post market with most fixed odds firms.
Ninth in the Hennessy Gold Cup, and last of those to finish – 19 set out and the very testing ground certainly took its toll on some good horses - was Alan King’s Midnight Prayer, last season’s four-mile National Hunt Chase winner having his first run of the new campaign. He certainly shaped as though the outing would do him good and connections have already hinted that they may be interested in a crack at the Grand National, although first they will bid for the Welsh National for which Midnight Prayer is 12/1 co-favourite in the betting lists at present. He would definitely have the stamina and jumping ability to go well at Aintree.