In a classically-competitive Hennessy Gold Cup, the younger brigade ruled the roost as Trio D’Alene secured a second successive victory for Nicky Henderson and jockey Barry Geraghty.
The win also sealed a big race double for Henderson, who had earlier saddled My Tent Or Yours to an impressive seasonal bow in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
In his post-race comments, Henderson suggested that his jockey had been begging him to look after the horse with the Grand National in mind and last season’s Topham Chase winner proved he has stamina to add to jumping ability in a thrilling Hennessy.
That venerable old warrior Imperial Commander showed he retains as much enthusiasm as ever as he cut out much of the running with Highland Lodge, who put in some spectacular leaps.
Opening Batsman and another Henderson runner Hadrian’s Approach, were both early casualties, with the latter causing havoc to the leaders during the course of the race. Super Duty was another early leader but by halfway was on the retreat.
In behind, the likes of Prince De Beauchene, Invictus and Rocky Creek began to creep closer to the leaders, while Our Father was under pressure some way out. Seven out and Katenko, racing for the first time since his life threatening attack of colic, took a crashing fall, whilst cruising in behind the front two horses. His fall came too far out to know where he would have figured but he was running a big race at the time. His fall hampered Lord Windemere and Terminal and thankfully, the horse was reported fine afterwards.
Six fences from home, Imperial Commander cried enough and was respectfully pulled-up. As they turned for home, 17 horses remained in contention, with Highland Lodge ahead of Cloudy Too, with Prince De Beauchene showing prominently on the inside and Rocky Creek a close fourth.
Four fences from home and suddenly Trio D’Alene appeared on the scene to join battle and as Rocky Creek took it up three out, Prince De Beauchene started to feel the pinch.
Highland Lodge continued to battle on the inside of Rocky Creek, with Invictus and Theatre Guide further wide also coming into contention.
At the second last Rocky Creek and Daryl Jacob held a slender lead from the hard-ridden Highland Lodge and Trio D’Alene, with Theatre Guide closing and the race between these four as Invictus tied-up.
Barry Geraghty and Trio D’Alene then asserted going to the final fence, with Rocky Creek under pressure and Theatre Guide and the gutsy Highland Lodge finally beaten off. Up front the two leaders took the last fence well and momentarily it looked as though there would be a battle royal to the line as Rocky Creek fought back. However, coming to the elbow, Trio D’Alene surged on to record a comfortable victory, with Rocky Creek an honourable second, Theatre Guide closing in third and Highland Lodge running a magnificent race for fourth.
The front 4 horses are all young and Course-specialist feels this was a Hennessy very much with an eye to the future. Trio D’Alene is likely to feel the wrath of the handicapper now but in behind, there may well have been plenty of Grand National clues.
Earlier on, the old brigade did enjoy a big race success, as Celestial Halo, who seems to have been around since the start of time, recorded a much deserved success in the Long Distance Hurdle. Ridden positively throughout, he had Reve De Sivola beaten before the last but at the time was being stalked by At Fishers Cross, when that horse made a horrible mistake in mid air, screwing his body and landing very awkwardly. Unsurprisingly, that scare put paid to At Fishers Cross’s chances and he finished last of the 4 to complete after Battle Group had earlier refused to race.
Celestial Halo had previously run second to Solwhit in the World Hurdle before winning in France. Rising 10, he is a remarkable horse, having contested a St Leger, won a Triumph Hurdle and finished second in a Champion Hurdle before his recent renaissance. With Big Bucks due to return in January, owner Andy Stewart must be so proud of this horse who exemplifies what we love about the National Hunt game.
Similarly another of his old favourites Tatenen proved something of a renaissance horse, providing a very welcome big winner for trainer Richard Rowe, as he romped home in the Fulke Walwyn Trophy. Valdez had earlier looked a novice chaser of a rare vintage as he ran out a facile winner of the Bet365 Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase, after main rival Black River had fallen. Whilst it is too early to fully appreciate the pecking order among the novice chasers, this performance suggests Valdez had a big engagement to fulfil further down the line and it will be fascinating to see if Alan King has mapped out a big handicap chase for this classy recruit.
At Newcastle, My Tent Or Yours ran out an impressive winner of the StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle. Held up as Cotton Mill made a bold but ultimately failed attempt to gallop his rivals into the ground, the favourite travelled smoothly throughout and as Grumeti took up the running turning for home, AP McCoy loomed up large on the inside. Both horses jumped well and My Tent Or Yours asserted before the last flight, galloping clear, with Cockney Sparrow staying on well to take third place ahead of Grumeti.
Bookmakers reacted by shortening My Tent Or Yours to 3/1 for the Champion Hurdle and Course-specialist.co.uk thinks these odds are absolutely ridiculous at this stage. This would not have been the strongest renewal of the Fighting Fifth and whilst My Tent Or Yours is likely to improve a lot for this run, he has yet to meet the cream of the established Champion Hurdle contenders.
We have the feeling that after the sad demise of Darlan, the media and bookmakers were trying to make My Tent Or Yours into something he wasn’t, with Champion Hurdle quotes thrown around after his Newbury victory. Anyone who took that chance at the time was simply putting money in bookmakers’ satchels and his defeat at Cheltenham also remains fresh in the mind. We hope in time that he will develop into a Champion Hurdle contender but at present we feel his odds should be four times the current price until he has beaten proven Champion Hurdle horses.
In behind, Cockney Sparrow maintained her excellent hurdles form and looks capable of picking up a valuable handicap this season, while Grumeti now has a run under his belt and can surely build on a good return, having run his race but just found My Tent Or Yours too good.