The Willie Mullins trained Djakadam has been the buzz horse for Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup since he was declared to run, can the five-year old prevail in one of the biggest handicaps of the year? Stephen Loftus previews his chances.
The statistics say Djakadam cannot win Saturday’s race. No five-year-old has ever won the Hennessy Gold Cup. No Irish horse has won the big race at Newbury since 1980 and Willie Mullins’ record in British handicap chases makes for grim reading.
However, this horse seems to be very special and in the eyes of Willie Mullins, is a Cheltenham Gold Cup horse. If that is to be believed, he should be winning a race of this nature off a mark of 142.
At 4/1, Djakadam has been the subject of an ante-post gamble having been 10/1 only two weeks ago. Ruby Walsh travels over for the ride and while this race has the reputation of being a major betting race and a hotly contested handicap chase, this does not look like a strong renewal. Triolo D’Alene carries eleven pounds more than when winning this race last year, while the form of the Henderson team would also be a major worry. Last year’s second Rocky Creek represents Paul Nicholls and the in-form Sam Twiston Davies but the Grand National seems the main aim for this horse. The same can be said for Monbeg Dude.
Ballynagour is an interesting horse for David Pipe, coming off an absence of 214 days. He goes well fresh, having won the Byrne Group Plate chase at Cheltenham off a similar absence. Smad Place and Annacotty represent last year’s Ryanair Chase form which was boosted by Sam Winner’s victory at Cheltenham two weeks ago. The latter is not good enough for a race of this nature while Smad Place’s jumping still leaves something to be desired. The booking of Denis O’Regan aboard the Alan King charge is eye-catching and while he is sure to go well, a place in the top five is his ceiling.
Fingal Bay is the one likely to provide most of the resistance against Djakadam. The exciting former-hurdler beat Simonsig over hurdles in his younger days and finished second to Dynaste on his second chasing start. He still looks feasibly handicapped and with the red-hot Richard Johnson on board, he cannot be ruled out for win purposes.
Many Clouds is a horse fancied by many analysts but his form of fourth behind Holywell, who has proven not to be of Gold Cup standard, and with most of Oliver Sherwood’s horses needing their first run, he looks opposable. Can he really give away seven pounds to Djakadam?
This race looks at the mercy of Djakadam if he is the horse that Willie Mullins believes him to be. The only doubt is his stamina but if Ruby can get him settled in midfield early on, he should have too much class for this field. Fingal Bay looks the main danger and I expect the two of these to be slugging it out into the last couple of fences.
Selection: Djakadam really could make a mockery of this handicap mark on his way to better races and I expect him to defy the statistics and nay-sayers.
Stephen Loftus, Pundit Arena.