AFTER 59 years of sponsorship, Hennessy decided last year to end their association with Newbury’s famous Gold Cup and tomorrow the race will be run as the Ladbrokes Trophy (3.00pm) for the first time.
Some household names have won this race over the past decade with the likes of Denman, Bobs Worth and Many Clouds going on to taste glory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup or the Grand National.
In fact, there have only been two occasions in the last 12 years when the winner has carried less than 11 stone, proving that the cream has a habit of rising to the top.
The weights are headed by fragile 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree, who has only made it to the racecourse on four occasions since that memorable victory.
He was pulled up on his seasonal return to action at Wetherby last month and, even though there is no disputing his star quality, it will take a monster performance for him to bounce back here under his welter burden.
If there is one horse lurking in the field that has the potential to reach the very top, it must be Harry Fry’s AMERICAN who was unbeaten on all three starts over fences last season.
He is another fragile one, having had just six races under rules in three years, as his connections have sought soft ground to protect his knees.
Although he looks unlikely to get proper soft conditions tomorrow, there should be enough ease for him to prove effective and he is a serious contender.
However, there isn’t much juice left in his price with Ladbrokes biggest at 7/1.
He is pretty hard to leave off the shortlist, but this is no easy task off a mark of 157.
Willie Mullins’ Total Recall heads the betting after landing a monster gamble on his first start for the yard in the Munster National back in October.
There is no getting away from the fact that Mullins inherited an extremely well-handicapped horse from Sandra Hughes and he certainly made a mockery of that mark of 129. He’s now 18lbs higher, though, and makes limited appeal at 9/2.
The pair I’m keen to concentrate on are Nicky Henderson’s WHISPER and VYTA DU ROC who both look interesting from different ends of the handicap.
I was at Kempton recently when Whisper pulled victory from the jaws of defeat against Clan Des Obeaux who has boosted the form with victory last weekend.
However, what really impressed me with Whisper was how hard he blew afterwards which made me think that he wasn’t anywhere near fully wound up for that reappearance run.
He was beaten twice by Might Bite at both Cheltenham and Aintree last season as a novice and has every right to be in the mix here. He will certainly strip much fitter now.
The ground should be perfect for him and Davy Russell looks sure to put him to sleep out the back and slowly creep him into contention.
At a general 8/1, he looks rock-solid each-way material.
If there is one niggling doubt, it could well be the trip as he may be vulnerable to a stronger stayer in what is always a gruelling contest.
That threat could well be stable-mate Vyta Du Roc who sneaks in here off a 3lb lower mark than when sixth in this race 12 months ago.
With just 10st1lb on his back, he will feel as if he is running loose and the recent spin over hurdles will have put him spot on for this.
Stable-mate Top Notch showed last weekend at Ascot the benefit of a prep run over the smaller obstacles and at 10/1 with Ladbrokes he looks the value call.
He got within a head of winning the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown last April and, although slightly higher in the weights, he may be about to click over fences.
As for the last selection, stick with COGRY who is another stayer who seems to be improving with age.
He was a good winner at Cheltenham last time having narrowly missed out in the Scottish National.
He will keep going when plenty of others have cried enough and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horses are in flying form.