Racing: Nicholls has Whitenzo primed to fulfil potential in Hennessy

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The Independent Online

The mathematics of the betting market will suggest otherwise, but there are no no-hopers running in the 46th Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury today. None of the horses are running just so the owner can get free tickets for a day out, or because the trainer is suffering from delusional optimism.

The mathematics of the betting market will suggest otherwise, but there are no no-hopers running in the 46th Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury today. None of the horses are running just so the owner can get free tickets for a day out, or because the trainer is suffering from delusional optimism.

The connections of every one of the 25 runners will arrive at the Berkshire track with a quickening heartbeat telling them that the big one, its famous yellow-gold trophy and its £60,900 prize, might just be theirs. The overall quality of this afternoon's field is matched by its size, which has been exceeded only twice. The development and expansion of the jump season has meant that the very best chasers no longer need to run in handicaps, but if the Hennessy's status as one of the absolute must-haves on the way to the Gold Cup has been eroded, it still remains the finest of its type.

The Best Mates and Florida Pearls apart, there are not many of the highest echelon of staying chasers of proven and potential ability missing from today's line-up. The contenders include the winners of an ersatz Gold Cup (Marlborough), a Grand National (Bindaree), two Scottish Nationals (Gingembre and Take Control), an attheraces (Whitbread that was) Gold Cup (Bounce Back), a Royal & SunAlliance Chase (Hussard Collonges), a Racing Post Chase (Gunther McBride) and a previous Hennessy (Ever Blessed). Any reader not looking forward to 2.35pm is on the wrong page.

This is a race which has everyone guessing, even the bookmakers, who have seen runs on several horses, including Harbour Pilot, Gola Cher and Direct Access. So while the market on the Hennessy usually finds its level by the day, with the price of every runner pretty much where it should be, this one could still have some value left.

The key may be the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby earlier this month, in which Marlborough beat Hussard Collonges and Gingembre. Marlborough, who may be short of stamina on a day when that quality will be at a premium, and Gingembre, at his best under quicker conditions, are ruled out, but Hussard Collonges is accorded the greatest respect. The seven-year-old was probably not given the credit he deserved when he beat Iznogoud at Cheltenham in March, but on his seasonal return he jumped soundly in front and tired only in the closing stages.

However, Whitenzo (2.35) was travelling notably well when he made such a horrible mistake four out that he was all but on the floor. The six-year-old had a so-so season last term, combining fences and hurdles, but in the opinion of his trainer Paul Nicholls he is now ready to fulfil the potential he showed as a novice. His stable is in top form, he will lack nothing in assistance from the saddle, he will stay every yard and is well worth an each-way investment.

Tony McCoy's choice from the four-pronged Martin Pipe challenge is Bounce Back, who is thus likely to start favourite, but such is the strength of the stable that he gets it wrong as often as right. But Bounce Back, another six-year-old, won Sandown's premier chase in such effortless style and is likely to improve from that effort that he must go on the short-list. The supporting card is typically strong and full of interest. Bacchanal, who has the King George VI Chase as his target, has his prep in the Long Distance Hurdle and though, as a former top-class performer over the small obstacles, he has more chance than returning National hero Red Marauder, he may have to give best to effortless Wetherby winner Brother Joe (2.00).

Mister McGoldrick (3.40), from another flying yard, skips the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in favour of the trip south and can take his reward in the Gerry Fielden Hurdle while Jair du Cochet (1.30) can continue his progress through the novice chasing ranks.

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