As a long-standing supporter of Newbury’s Hennessy Festival, stretching back to the days of Burrough Hill Lad, I was pleased to see last week’s renewal receive so much positive feedback.
Newbury has been plagued by bad press in recent years. Controversies have sprouted over such diverse issues as dress codes, pop concerts, mass brawls, housing developments and brand names.
But the Berkshire venue always has the feel of a ‘proper’ racecourse and always stages beautifully balanced programmes, both over Jumps and on the Flat.
Tiny fields did mar the opening day of the 2014 Festival, but that is hardly a problem exclusive to Newbury. As a three-day package, the meeting was hugely enjoyable for racegoers and informative for punters.
The track, no doubt invigorated by the arrival of new boss Julian Thick, also had a buzz about it. The focus is back on its raison d’etre -- the racing -- and while the sideshows and side attractions remain, they are spin-offs, not distractions, from the main action.
For example, The Outside Chance on-course bar is not just a tent of an excuse to get intoxicated, but carries firm links to the racing. It is AP McCoy’s Outside Chance, home of tipping competitions, giving the option to watch the racing on big screens and to meet the day’s cast of jockeys, trainers and owners.
If this year’s Hennessy Festival is anything to go by, Newbury is heading in the right direction again. And it is primed for another massive shot in the arm at the start of the next Flat season, thanks to Al Shaqab’s generous support of Lockinge Day, which is to get a serious upgrade.
Anyway, enough of my waffle. Here are 11 horses who took the eye over the three days last week. All are well worth monitoring for the rest of the Jumps campaign.
CARRAIG MOR (Alan King)
Only three runners, one of which was an over-rated Paul Nicholls favourite. But still a convincing front-running display by a giant of a six-year-old who has always been highly regarded and is sure to come into his own over fences.
CONEYGREE (Mark Bradstock)
Helped by the fall of the favourite, but still a terrific performance to make all on his chasing debut at Grade Two level after a mammoth 671-day absence. Worth remembering that he was third to At Fishers Cross and The New One on his last hurdling start.
L’AMI SERGE (Nicky Henderson)
Lovely, lengthy, scopy French recruit, who took advantage of a generous handicap mark to take apart a good, competitive renewal of the Gerry Feilden, despite getting hampered at the second last flight and then flattening the last. Has been put up a stone, but can progress into graded company.
LANCEUR (Lucy Wadham)
Five-year-old import from France, who played second fiddle to a long-odds-on favourite on his UK debut, but who, under a quiet ride, travelled and jumped well enough to suggest he can pick up a small novice hurdle or two as the season progresses. Well regarded at home.
MONETAIRE (David Pipe)
After all the excitement of the Hennessy, this 2m handicap chase slipped under the radar of many. But it yielded a highly promising front two, including David Pipe’s strong recruit from France, who remains lightly-raced for an eight-year-old and can improve again over further.
NED STARK (Alan King)
There is nothing flashy about this six-year-old novice chaser, but he’s tough and likeable and a very proficient jumper. He improved here for the step-up from 2m4f and will improve again when tackling 3m or even further. Might even be one for the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
OLD GUARD (Paul Nicholls)
A pleasing winning debut over hurdles for a three-year-old who was progressive on the Flat for Roger Charlton. Very much built for the winter game, he took to it like an old hand and is likely to make an even bigger impact on better ground. Unquestionably Triumph material.
SILSOL (Paul Nicholls)
Not many Paul Nicholls horses go off at 14/1. But the price accurately reflected the trainer’s view that the five-year-old would need the race on his seasonal bow. The fact that he proceeded to defy top weight to land a competitive handicap hurdle suggests he’s still progressing.
SOLAR IMPULSE (Paul Nicholls)
Rapidly improving young chaser, owned by Graham Wylie, who was beaten only by a very smart, well-handicapped rival, to whom he gave a full stone when you factor in the fact that he’s still only a four-year-old. Sure to win more races, especially when upped to 2m4f.
SMAD PLACE (Alan King)
Given that the first three endured gruelling races, Alan King’s admirable grey is the one to take from the Hennessy. Looked, travelled and jumped better than ever before tiring in the testing ground when race-fitness and a curious hold-up ride by his stand-in pilot took their toll.
YANWORTH (Alan King)
Sturdy JP McManus-owned four-year-old who faced only three rivals in the meeting’s Bumper, but toyed with them on the bridle, despite carrying a 7lb penalty and despite testing ground that trainer Alan King insists is not to his liking. Almost certainly a very good horse.