Blaklion has “the right sort of profile” as field of 20 set to go to post for 60th Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday

Ante-post favourite Native River heads a field of 20 for the feature £200,000 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on day two of the bet365 Festival, Saturday, November 26. The famous three and a quarter mile handicap chase is being run for the 60th time in 2016.

A Grade One-winning novice over fences at Aintree last season, Native River (Colin Tizzard/Richard Johnson, 11st 1lb) is the 9/2 market leader with bet365 following a good second over hurdles on his comeback at Wetherby in October.

The next three in the betting are also second season chasers. Vyta Du Roc (Nicky Henderson/Tom O’Brien, 10st 3lb, 7/1 with bet365) captured the G2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot in February, while Un Temps Pour Tout (David Pipe/Tom Scudamore, 11st 4lb, 15/2) ran away with the staying handicap chase on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Blaklion (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Ryan Hatch, 11st, 8/1) was among the best staying novices last season with three wins from seven starts, including a battling victory in the G1 RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. The seven-year-old ran a good race on his return when fourth in the G2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on October 29.

Twiston-Davies, who sent out King’s Road to victory in the 2000 Hennessy Gold Cup, said: “Blaklion has improved for the run at Wetherby and is in very good heart.

“He has got the right sort of profile for this because he is a second season novice. He will like the softer ground and longer trip, so it all looks good for him. I am quite bullish about it.

Double Ross (Jamie Bargary, 10st 9lb, 50/1) won well at Chepstow earlier in the season. He is obviously very much more exposed than Blaklion but we are hoping he runs well.”

Last year’s winner and top-weight Smad Place (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson, 11st 12lb, 8/1) is out to become only the fourth two-time winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup, following Mandarin, Arkle and Denman. The nine-year-old will race from an 11lb higher mark this time around.

Triolo Social

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls is doubly represented as he bids for a fourth victory in the race. He runs Saphir Dh Rheu (Nick Scholfield, 10st 13lb, 8/1), who was fifth last year when sent off favourite, and Scottish Grand National scorer Vicente (Harry Skelton, 10st 11lb, 16/1).

Other high-profile contenders include Henri Parry Morgan (Peter Bowen/Sean Bowen, 10st 10lb, 9/1), Theatre Guide (Colin Tizzard/Paddy Brennan, 10st 9lb, 14/1), runner-up last year, and 2013 scorer Triolo D’Alene (Nicky Henderson/Jeremiah McGrath, 10st 10lb, 25/1, pictured).

Hennessy Gold Cup, bet365 prices:  9/2 Native River; 7/1 Vyta Du Roc; 15/2 Un Temps Pour Tout; 8/1 Blaklion, Smad Place; 9/1 Henri Parry Morgan; 14/1 Theatre Guide; 16/1 Houblon Des Obeaux, Vicente; 20/1 Holywell; 25/1 Triolo D’Alene, Hadrian’s Approach, Caroles Destrier; 33/1 Coologue, Aubusson; 40/1 Regal Encore; 50/1 Double Ross, Upswing, Local Show

The bet365 Festival kicks off tomorrow, Friday, November 25, with a seven-race programme running from 12.20pm through to 3.45pm.

Tomorrow’s highlight is the £50,000 Grade Two bet365 Long Distance Hurdle (2.10pm, nine runners) over three miles. Heading the market at 7/4 with bet365 is Ballyoptic (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Ryan Hatch), who landed a G1 novices’ hurdle at Aintree in April. He fell at the final flight on his seasonal return when still well in contention in the G2 bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby on October 29, a race in which The Romford Pele (Rebecca Curtis/Jonathan Moore, 8/1) finished fourth.

Twiston-Davies continued: “Ballyoptic is absolutely fine after his fall at Wetherby. He was just winded there and has jumped brilliantly since. It has not dented his confidence at all, so we are expecting another big run.”

The opposition to Ballyoptic includes last season’s G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle scorer Unowhatimeanharry (Harry Fry/Barry Geraghty, 6/1), who is making his seasonal debut and 11-year-old Reve De Sivola (Nick Williams/Daryl Jacob, 5/1), a six-time G1 winner.

There is an Irish-trained contender in Snow Falcon (Noel Meade/Sean Flanagan, 7/1), successful at G2 level at Navan on November 13, while multiple Graded chase winner Menorah (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson, 8/1) makes his first start over hurdles in almost five years.

Completing the line-up are Ubak (Gary Moore/Joshua Moore, 14/1), Maximiser (Simon West/Aidan Coleman, 14/1) and Shades Of Midnight (Donald Whillans/Callum Whillans, 25/1).

bet365 Long Distance Hurdle, bet365 prices: 7/4 Ballyoptic; 5/1 Reve De Sivola; 6/1 Unowhatimeanharry; 7/1 Snow Falcon; 8/1 The Romford Pele, Menorah; 14/1 Ubak, Maximiser; 25/1 Shades Of Midnight

Tomorrow’s card at Newbury also includes the £50,000 bet365 Open Handicap Chase (2.45pm, nine runners) over just short of two and a half miles while an intriguing contest is in prospect for the £35,000 G2 Fuller’s London Pride Novices’ Chase (1.35pm, five runners) over the same distance.

The Fuller’s London Pride Novices’ Chase sees two exciting novice hurdlers from last season make their chasing debut – G1 Punchestown winner One Track Mind (Warren Greatrex/Gavin Sheehan) and G2 Cheltenham scorer Protek Des Flos (Nicky Henderson/Barry Geraghty).

The ground at Newbury is currently:

Hurdle Course: Soft, Good to Soft in places

Chase Course: Good to Soft, Soft in places

The forecast for today, tomorrow and Saturday is for overcast but predominantly dry conditions.

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