Highly regarded following an emphatic win at Wetherby’s Christmas meeting in December 2013, the Trevor Hemmings-owned eight-year-old came of age in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November.
Even though today’s distance is slightly shorter than the three-and-a-quarter mile Hennessy test, Sherwood still needs convincing that the eight-year-old is a genuine Gold Cup contender.
Though this Grade Two race is a notable trial for steeplechasing’s championship race, the last horse to win both contests in the same season was the Richard Johnson-ridden Looks Like Trouble in 2000.
“Winning a race like the Hennessy took a fair bit out of him, so we’ve given him plenty of time,” said Sherwood with characteristic realism. “When you have a horse rated 161, what do you do?
“You’ve got to test the water in a race like this. I’m well aware he’s got to give 8lb to Smad Place, who was giving us 4lb at Newbury, but the form of the Hennessy keeps getting franked and it did again when the Willie Mullins horse Djakadam waltzed away with the Thyestes.
“If he goes and runs well, then the obvious thing is to then target the Gold Cup, but you’ve got to take it one step at a time. I’ve been around long enough now to know not to get carried away and my feet are firmly stuck on the ground as yet.”
One horse who comes to life at Cheltenham and specifically at this time of year is David Bridgwater’s The Giant Bolster, who has been placed in the last three Gold Cups.
There are two concerns, however. Bridgwater’s stable star has disappointed on his two starts to date and will once again be without the services of his regular rider Tom Scudamore, who is committed to partnering Ryanair Chase hero Dynaste for his boss David Pipe.
Jockey Tom Cannon is an able deputy and Bridgwater said: “On ratings and so on, there is not a lot between them. Oliver Sherwood’s horse won the Hennessy and looks the one to beat, but then I would like to think that he thinks we are the one to beat.”
Warren Greatrex is looking for another good effort from Cole Harden in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle.
The six-year-old has been a model of consistency in staying races this season, winning the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby under Gavin Sheehan, before finishing second in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle.
Cole Harden then claimed third behind Rock On Ruby at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, and Greatrex is hopeful as his charge steps back up in trip to a preferred three miles. “We’re the horse that’s been there and done it and I expect a big run, but I expect him to be better come March and the Ladbrokes World Hurdle,” he declared.