“How could I miss the Hennessy ?” – Alan King

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Friday November 25

Sometimes in life you’d love to be able to cut yourself in half so as to be in two places at the same time, like your sister’s wedding clashing with Cheltenham Gold Cup day or next year’s Champions League Final in Cardiff facing off with Derby Day at Epsom.

Unless you hire a chopper it might be tight going to squeeze in the latter pair on the first Saturday in June, though for me it’s probably irrelevant as Arsenal are 40-1 to make it to Wales anyway, but I can sympathise how disappointing it is for Alan with Smad Place starting his repeat bid in tomorrow’s Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury just 15 minutes after Sceau Royal run in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

Alan said:”The fact that I won’t be at Newcastle should not be taken as a sign that I lack confidence in Sceau Royal, but I haven’t missed a Hennessy for years and Newbury is our local track, so I was always going to be heading there.”

And assessing Smad Place’s chance of an encore, Alan added:”Watching him grind them into submission when winning by 12 lengths last year with an aggressive display of front-running was the highlight of our season, and it would be lovely to think that it might happen again.

“However, Smad is now 11lb higher and he could be vulnerable to something lower down the weights. Having said that I was delighted with his comeback in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree, where the two and a half miles was always going to be too sharp for him. He jumped super, stayed on really well and is sure to have come on for that first run, and Wayne (Hutchinson) was pleased with the schooling session which we had on Monday morning.”

And of Sceau Royal, Alan said:”He was a good juvenile hurdler but he has definitely improved this season, winning by 11 lengths at Cheltenham and nine at Wincanton, and, though he was impressive last time, he’ll definitely be more at ease in this ground than he was at Wincanton, where it was plenty quick enough for him. He breezed well last week-end and seems in really good order, but this is another step up the ladder and it should help us find out how close we are getting to the big players.”

We have Elgin heading north east with Sceau Royal, and Alan added:”He’s a promising bumper winner who was a good second under a penalty behind a smart horse in Cruiseaweigh at Aintree three weeks ago. He has schooled well and is another who will benefit from this easier ground.”

Besides Smad Place, we have three others going to Newbury and casting his eyes over their prospects Alan said:”Dusky Legend, who runs in the Listed opener, has the big mares race at Cheltenham in March as her ultimate target and, hopefully, she might go one better than last season. I was pleased with her comeback win here at the start of the month and the fact that the ground has dried out through the week is another boost to her chance. She’s in very good order.

Gibralfaro has his first try at two and a half miles in the Class 2 handicap hurdle, and he has been crying out for this step up in trip. He’s been placed at Cheltenham and Chepstow this season and might improve for going up in distance.

Who Dares Wins goes for what we used to know as the Gerry Feilden Hurdle. He ran really well on his return to jumping at Chepstow and then fell early on at Cheltenham, but he schooled well on Monday morning and can hopefully prove competitive here.

“We just have the one runner at Doncaster, Paddy’s Runner, who steps up in trip for the 188Bet Handicap Hurdle. He ran well over two miles at Sandown last month but was doing all his best work at the finish, so while he could be a few pounds too high in the weights, he might appreciate this extra distance.

“Finally, we have Cosmeapolitan going to Wolverhampton for the feature Betway Handicap on the tapeta surface. It’s his first time on the all-weather, but he had some good solid form on the turf last summer, and, though he has schooled well, there is a shortage of juvenile hurdles at this time of the year so with £19,000 of prize money on offer here it’s worth postponing his jumping debut just a bit longer.”