They call the Hennessy the first of the jumping Classics and some of the names that have won the contest are stirring to anyone with a soul for the winter game. Play around with the likes of Mill House and Arkle, and, more recently, Burrough Hill Lad and One Man. If there does not appear to be a potential monster in this Saturday's Hennessy, that detracts from the race not a jot. It is never without merit. And, once again, there are strands of interest aplenty for Newbury's 39th Hennessy Gold Cup.
The favourite, Teeton Mill, may leave one of his shoes behind if successful at the weekend as he is the Cinderella of the field. The former hunter- chaser sprang to prominence at Wincanton earlier this month and now attempts to establish Venetia Williams as the second woman after Jenny Pitman to win the great race. He has a profile extraordinarily similar to Coome Hill, one of his opponents on Saturday and the Hennessy winner two years ago.
Teeton Mill is as low as 5-2, a price which makes his trainer stiff. "It's terrifying, especially as the next horse is 8-1," Williams said yesterday. "He won the Horse & Hound Cup nicely against other hunter chasers at Stratford last season, but this is a whole new ball game. Not only are we against handicappers, but they are some of the best in the country."
The ground is expected to suit Teeton Mill. At the moment it is good with good to firm patches, but Richard Pridham, the clerk of the course, reports that the angels are on our side and showers will be prevalent up to Saturday morning before glorious weather greets racegoers in the afternoon. God must have great bunches of members badges dangling from his binoculars.
This predicted terrain will also suit Coome Hill himself, and the Cornish- trained gelding appeared a reinvigorated figure when he was victorious on his reappearance. "I'm very pleased with the way he went at Ascot and he has worked well since," Walter Dennis, the nine-year-old's trainer, said yesterday. "I'm not the slightest bit worried about the theory that horses which have had a lay-off run well in their first race back and then disappoint next time.
"I generally never fear anyone, but you would have to watch out for the horses at the bottom of the handicap."
Foremost among these is The Toiseach, an impressive winner of the John Doyle Chase at Aintree on Saturday. The seven-year-old has recovered from those exertions and was last night confirmed as a Hennessy runner by James Fanshawe. Richard Dunwoody has been booked for the ride.
"The main thing is that he is never going to be so well handicapped again with just a 4lb penalty," Fanshawe said. "He has got that lovely relentless stride and rhythm that works so well on a galloping track [like Newbury]."
Among the early bookmaking skirmishes yesterday, William Hill took the blade to Fine Thyne (12-1 from 20-1) and Ireland's Boss Doyle (7-1 from 10-1), who was second to Strath Royal in Wetherby's Charlie Hall Chase last month. "The horse is fine," Mouse Morris, his trainer, reported yesterday. "I was pleased with his performance at Wetherby, but I would be disappointed if he didn't improve from that running. Good ground on the day would be a bonus for us.
"Boss Doyle leaves for England on Wednesday and he'll stay at Richard Hannon's for a couple of days." And if he can survive the nights at East Everleigh Stables then Boss Doyle will indeed deserve the Hennessy. When you leave Hannon's company for home, the direction tends to be a tad haphazard. He will be familiar with the product of Saturday's sponsors.
HENNESSY GOLD CUP H'CAP CHASE (3m 2f 110yds)
Horse (Trainer/weight) Coral Wm Hill Ladb. Stanley Tote
Teeton Mill (Miss V Williams/10st5lb) 5-2 11-4 11-4 11-4 5-2
Boss Doyle (M Morris(Irl)/11st5lb) 7-1 7-1 6-1 15-2 8-1
The Toiseach (J Fanshawe/10st13lb) 6-1 6-1 5-1 13-2 8-1
Coome Hill (W Dennis/11st8lb) 8-1 8-1 9-1 8-1 9-1
Seven Towers (Mrs M Reveley/10st12lb) 8-1 8-1 8-1 8-1 10-1
Eudipe (M Pipe/10st11lb) 14-1 12-1 14-1 14-1 12-1
Fiddling The Facts (N Henderson/10st7lb) 14-1 14-1 14-1 14-1 14-1
Call It A Day (D Nicholson/10st12lb) 16-1 14-1 16-1 12-1 12-1
Sparky Gale (C Parker/10st9lb) 16-1 14-1 16-1 14-1 12-1
Fine Thyne (Mrs A J Perrett/10st1lb) 14-1 12-1 12-1 20-1 11-1
Baronet (D Nicholson/10st5lb) 25-1 25-1 20-1 25-1 25-1
Addington Boy (N Richards/11st8lb) 20-1 33-1 25-1 25-1 33-1
Him Of Praise (O Sherwood)/10st) 25-1 33-1 20-1 33-1 25-1
Indian Tracker (M Pipe/10st10lb) 20-1 33-1 33-1 33-1 25-1
Mahler (N Twiston-Davies/10st9lb) 20-1 25-1 33-1 20-1 20-1
Sail By The Stars (H Daly/10st5lb) 16-1 25-1 33-1 25-1 20-1
Senor El Betrutti (Mrs S Nock/11st10lb) DBT 33-1 33-1 33-1 33-1
The Last Fling (Mrs S Smith/9st13lb) 25-1 33-1 33-1 33-1 25-1
Avro Anson (Miss J Camacho/10st6lb) 40-1 66-1 66-1 66-1 40-1
Danger Baby (P Bowen/9st11lb) 40-1 66-1 50-1 50-1 40-1
Each-way a quarter the odds, places 1, 2, 3, 4 (Newbury, Saturday)
Minimum weight on the day: 10st.