The seven winners on the first day of the Hennessy meeting here 12 months ago included the subsequent Champion Hurdle winner and the beaten 6-5 favourite for the RSA Chase, but if the winner of the feature event on this year’s card on Thursday makes it to the Cheltenham Festival, it is much more likely to be in 2014 than four months from now.
There was something pleasantly old-fashioned about the course mapped out for Harry Topper after his success in the Grade Two Worcester Novice Chase, a reminder of the days of store horses and “big baby” seven-year-olds.
“You won’t see him for a long time now,” Kim Bailey, Harry Topper’s trainer, said. “I said before the race that not since Master Oats [the 1995 Gold Cup winner] have I come across a horse who will run through a brick wall, but he will.
“I’ve always held a very high opinion of him and he’s the best horse I’ve had since Master Oats. In days gone by, you could have won two or three novice chases with him and built up his strength and his confidence, but today we’ve had to come to what for me was the best novice chase [of the season].
“The chances that we’ll be at Cheltenham [in 2013] are very limited. He’s not strong enough to gallop downhill, he’s 17 hands with a huge amount of ability. I would like to think that in 18 months’ time, you’ll see him at Cheltenham. He’s the horse of my dreams, really.”
At one stage, Harry Topper looked a most unlikely winner and he was backed at 999-1 in-running on Betfair, but he came with a strong run under Timmy Murphy to catch Benefficient a few yards from the post.
“He lost four lengths at the last just by going right-handed, but when you’ve got horses with guts, it makes up for everything. He’s tough, but he’s so immature and weak,” Bailey said.
“He’s a mad horse, he walks his box, he crib bites, he weaves, he windsucks, he does everything. It takes an hour to get him in the horsebox to go racing. He has his own way of doing things.”
Meganisi, who finished second in a Listed race on the Flat at Newbury in May on the afternoon when Frankel made his seasonal debut, put his experience over hurdles to good use as he beat Aaim To Prosper, the 66-1 winner of last month’s Cesarewitch, in the opening novice hurdle.
Prospect Wells, the winner of this race last season, went on to finish fifth in the Supreme Novice Hurdle and third in a Grade Two at Aintree’s Grand National meeting, and Meganisi is now likely to step up into graded company. “We had the confidence to give him six months off and now he’s perfect,” Gearoid Costelloe, assistant to Rebecca Curtis, Meganisi’s trainer, said. “AP [McCoy] says two miles is a perfect trip for him, and we’ll just keep him at that.”
Costelloe also confirmed that Teaforthree, who took the National Hunt Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, will run in Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup, with McCoy in the saddle.
“We have an each-way chance, hopefully,” Costelloe said. “The Hennessy would be better to win than the Welsh National [at Christmas, Teaforthree’s next major target] and you’ll know turning in whether you’re good enough or not.
“He needs to get another run before the Welsh National. The soft ground is perfect, because it takes a bit more getting.”
Nicky Henderson took the Gerry Fielden Intermediate Hurdle, won last year by Rock On Ruby, the 2012 Champion Hurdler, as Lyvius beat Edgardo Sol, a Grade Three winner at Aintree in April, by two lengths. Handicaps are a more immediate concern for Henderson than Grade One championship events, however, with the valuable Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas one possible target for the winner.
The British Horseracing Authority said on Thursday that the minimum weight on the Flat will rise by 2lb to 8st from 1 January 2013. The rise is the first since 2002, when the minimum rose from 7st 10lb to 7st 12lb, and will be accompanied by new initiatives to improve the welfare of Flat jockeys, including a programme of bone-density scanning and the allocation of a minimum weight to apprentice and conditional jockeys, based on measurements recorded at their racing schools.
“The rise was an obvious step to take in view of the fact that the average weight of the British population is rising at a rate of 1lb every three years,” said Dr Michael Turner, the chief medical adviser to the British Horseracing Authority.
“Just as significant, though, are the wider initiatives being implemented with a view to assisting particularly young jockeys maintain and ride at a weight which is suitable for their wellbeing. Research in Britain and Ireland has identified that low bone density scores are a potential problem for young jockeys. To enable these jockeys to seek appropriate advice at an early stage, the BHA is introducing the programme of routine [bone density] scanning for apprentice and conditional jockeys.”
The maximum weight on the Flat will not change, resulting in a 2lb compression in the weight range for some races which will, the BHA said, have a “minimal effect” on the race programme. The Authority also pointed out that just 94 out of a total of 59,592 runners in Flat races in 2011 carried less than 8 stone.
The Professional Jockeys’ Association welcomed the changes, describing the new regime as “the result of a collaborative effort” by Dr Turner and the PJA “over a number of years”. “It was always important that the holistic approach British racing has taken in this issue continued,” Paul Struthers, the PJA’s chief executive, said, “as opposed to simply raising the minimum weight.”
Ed Dunlop’s star mare Snow Fairy has had her victory in the Prix Jean Romanet at Deauville taken away after failing a test for a banned substance. Connections have explained it was due to anti-inflammatory treatment the five-year-old has been receiving.
“We have sadly learnt that Snow Fairy has been disqualified as a result of failing a routine dope test taken after the race,” said Dunlop. “Due to the significant tendon injury that she suffered at the end of last year, Snow Fairy has required anti-inflammatory medication to help the injury.”