The Mackeson, Schweppes and Whitbread have gone the way of all flesh, but Saturday’s Newbury feature is still the Hennessy. The sponsor, part of French luxury goods empire LVMH, might even be tempted to back this early season jumping highlight for another 50 years if one of their own wins.
In a fiercely competitive renewal of this grand old race two French-bred horses, Juveigneur and Montgermont, are the ones to focus on. State of Play and Turpin Green are at the top of the betting but both can be opposed. The Hennessy is such a quality race that all too often punters forget that its full name is the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup Chase (Handicap). State of Play is improving but surely it was a mistake to run this horse at Aintree in April for a tiny prize, only for the handicapper to yank him up seventeen pounds.
Turpin Green’s price is solely based on his defeat of subsequent Paddy Power winner Exotic Dancer at Carlisle this term. However, based on his antics at Sandown last February he is a bit of a character and at the weights and under a penalty is another to swerve. Juveigneur is a proven competitor in big handicaps and bullish noises from the stable are encouraging. But, the best in the field may be Montgermont.
He has yet to race this term and is on a nice handicap mark. His win in the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Lingfield has probably been underestimated. But the form of his win in a seemingly insignificant Beginners’ Chase at Exeter bears the closest scrutiny. That day he trounced subsequent Cheltenham Festival scorer Reveillez who had the likes of Copsale Lad and Turpin Green toiling in his wake at HQ. The chief concern about Montgermont is his jumping, though he has apparently schooled well under champion jockey AP McCoy.
McCoy can’t partner him on Saturday because he rides Straw Bear in the Wbx.com “Fighting Fifth” Hurdle at Newcastle. He looks a good bet to beat favourite Desert Quest who will be suited by more pace and hurly burly than he will get in this small field. In Newbury’s lucky last, Afsoun can gain compensation for trainer Nicky Henderson should Juveigneur just fall short.
Newbury 2:40 Montgermont (win)
Newcastle 3:30 Straw Bear (win)
Newbury 3:45 Afsoun (win)