Coneygree heads 21 on course for Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday

Last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree (Mark Bradstock) heads 21 contenders for the £200,000 Hennessy Gold Cup (3.00pm), the highlight of the three-day bet365 Festival at Newbury, on Saturday, November 28.

The eight-year-old, who is 7/2 joint-favourite with bet365, tops the weights on 11st 12lb and is attempting to follow in the footsteps of such luminaries as Mandarin, Mill House, Arkle, Bregawn, Burrough Hill Lad, Denman and Bobs Worth who all landed the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Coneygree is a dual Grade Two winner at Newbury and made a winning seasonal reappearance when sauntering to a 25-length victory at Sandown Park on November 8. He had an injury scare last week but is an intended runner on Saturday.

Saphir Du Rheu (Paul Nicholls, 11st 3lb) is bet365’s other 7/2 joint-favourite. The six-year-old won a Grade One novices’ chase at Aintree last season and also made a winning comeback when comfortably landing a Listed chase by seven lengths from The Young Master (Neil Mulholland, 10st 4lb, 12/1) at Carlisle on November 1. Trainer Neil Mulholland is also set to be represented by The Druids Nephew (10st 10lb, 10/1), seventh in last year’s renewal before going on to take a Grade Three handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Colin Tizzard expects the likely pace of the race to play into the hands of Theatre Guide (9st 7lb, 33/1). The eight-year-old, who runs in the same colours as recent Betfair Chase winner Cue Card, shaped well on his reappearance when third in a two and a half mile Listed handicap chase at Wetherby on October 30.

Theatre Guide was third to Triolo D’Alene in the 2013 Hennessy Gold Cup and is set to race from 7lb out of the handicap.

Tizzard said: “Theatre Guide will run in the Hennessy Gold Cup, all being well.

“He has done a lot of work since Wetherby. Of all the horses we have run this season, he definitely needed his first run the most. He has been working with Cue Card, although he has not been keeping up with him!

“He has been placed in the Hennessy before off a higher mark and I think he is a better horse now.
“Coneygree will go off like the clappers and the race will probably fall apart. We are looking forward to it.”

Bobs Worth (Nicky Henderson, 10st 7lb, 7/1) landed the Henesssy Gold Cup in 2012 before annexing the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2013. He got back to winning ways when defeating stable companion Simonsig in a conditions hurdle at Aintree on November 7 and is racing from a 7lb lower mark than when winning in 2012.

Alan King’s stable has been in great form this season and he has two possible starters on Saturday in Smad Place (10st 9lb, 7/1) and Ned Stark (9st 8lb, 25/1, pictured right). Smad Place finished a staying-on fifth last year and won a graduation chase by eight lengths from Fingal Bay (Philip Hobbs, 9st 12lb, 25/1) at Kempton Park on November 2, while the lightly-raced Ned Stark was a Grade Two scorer at Wetherby last season.

Ned Stark

Other contenders include Houblon Des Obeaux (Venetia Williams, 10st 10lb, 16/1), who was runner-up to Many Clouds in 2014 and also chased home Coneygree in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury in February, while If In Doubt (Philip Hobbs, 10st 3lb, 12/1) disappointed on his final start of last season in the Irish Grand National but triumphed in the Listed Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.

Four Irish-trained contenders remain. The trio from Willie Mullins are dual Grade One winner Valseur Lido (10st 11lb, 10/1), Ballycasey (10st 2lb, 33/1) and Urano (9st 8lb, 33/1), while Mouse Morris has left in First Lieutenant (10st 1lb, 33/1) who finished third to Bobs Worth back in 2012.

First Lieutenant, a Grade One winner at Aintree in 2013, made his first appearance of the season at Clonmel in a Grade Two chase on November 12, when he finished fourth to Road To Riches.

Mouse Morris said today: “First Lieutenant will hopefully come over for the Hennessy.
“He is grand after his run in Clonmel and there is not a bother on him. We left the headgear off there because he was just starting back and I thought it was a very good run.
“He is showing me a bit of sparkle and I feel there is still a good bit of ability there if I can get him back.”

Ladbrokes World Hurdle hero Cole Harden (Warren Greatrex) headlines 10 entries for the £45,000 Grade Two bet365 Long Distance Hurdle (2.25pm) over three miles, also on Saturday.

Whisper (Nicky Henderson) reversed the Cheltenham form in the Grade One Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree in April, getting the better of Cole Harden by three and a half lengths.

The Grand National meeting also saw Thistlecrack record an impressive 13-length victory in the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle over an extended three miles.

Trained by Colin Tizzard, the seven-year-old was unlucky not to double up when going down by a half a length to Killultagh Vic in the Grade One Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

The trained added: “Thistlecrack will run at Newbury as well.
“He had a whizz around Wincanton on Friday and, although it was an impressive gallop, he will probably need the run.

“He is a massive horse and that is why I am worried about him not being fit. He has really grown into himself.

“He improved all through last season and was unlucky not to have won two Grade Ones by the end of it. He is a lovely horse and it is hard to say where he will end up.
“The plan is to run in a couple of hurdle races this side of Christmas to see if he is good enough to go for the World Hurdle. If not, we will switch to fences.”

Day three of the bet365 Festival features a seven-race card, running from 12.15pm to 3.35pm.

The third race on the card is the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase (1.15pm, 35 entries). The final commentary of Sir Peter’s long and illustrious career was on the Hennessy Gold Cup of 1997, won by Suny Bay. O’Sullevan commentated on 40 of the first 41 runnings of the great race; the only one he missed was in 1983 when covering the Japan Cup in Tokyo. Incredibly, on that famous day in 1997, Sounds Fyne, owned by Sir Peter O’Sullevan, won the very next race on the card at Newbury.

The bet365 Festival gets underway at Newbury on Thursday, November 26 and continues on Friday and Saturday, November 27 and 28.