Always an eagerly awaited Grade 1 event, Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown over 3m has again attracted a mouth-watering line-up, and one in which two of the last three winners of the historic race come face-to-face – namely, Joncol and Quel Esprit.
The latter became Willie Mullins’ fourth winner of the Hennessy in just nine years 12 months ago, but will be defending his crown in different circumstances this time around having been absent for 265 days – note, the last 16 Hennessy winners all raced during the last 60 days.
That fact alone could be enough to steer punters away from the current 10/1 shot, especially as each Hennessy winner since 1997 returned at 6/1 or shorter.
With that in mid, it is at the head of the market where trends followers will be looking for this year’s winner, and where both Flemenstar (5/4) and Sir Des Champs (6/5) are fighting it out for favouritism.
These two know plenty about each other, having clashed the last two times where Flemenstar currently holds the advantage, having beaten Sir Des Champs 5l, before edging him a short head when the pair were third and fourth in the Lexus Chase (3m).
On those two performances, the formbook suggests Flemenstar should emerge in front once more, though it would be interesting if connections decided to make this a real test over 3m as there are still doubts as to whether Flemenstar is a true three-miler.
If trainer Peter Casey is to send Flemenstar for the Cheltenham Gold Cup (also entered in the Ryanair over 2m5f), then he’ll need to win this impressively, but should this become a real test from the outset, then Sir Des Champs may gain his revenge.
But should Bog Warrior decide to take his place, he has proven in the past that he can match the best over fences. Indeed, Bog Warrior beat Flemenstar over 7l in a 2m beginners chase at Navan in November 2011, before the latter gained his revenge 11 months ago when Bog Warrior was pulled up.
A faller on his next outing three months ago, Tony Martin then chose to send his 9yo back over hurdles to regain some confidence, which worked the oracle as he won his last three. If Bog Warrior can revert that form back over the bigger obstacles, then his current odds of 8/1 could look very big come if he takes up this engagement.
Joncol won the Hennessy three years ago, but he’ll need to roll back the years if scoring once more, having won just one of his last 10 races, hence his odds of 33/1. The same odds are on show for Roi Du Mee, but he has always looked short at this level, and over 3m or further.
China Rock on the other hand, does boast winning form in Grade 1 company having won the Punchestown Gold Cup in April, though whether going left-handed suits these days remains to be seen – his six outings at Leopardstown produced form figures of 654455.
But with the trends of the Hennessy showing that each of the last 16 winners were all proven Grade 1 winners at 6/1 or shorter, there is a chance Flemenstar may just last home before heading to Cheltenham.