A year ago Houblon Des Obeaux was chasing home a horse that would go on to claim the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the Denman Chase at Newbury, and 12 months later is back to go one better.
The nine-year-old’s seven length defeat to Coneygree turned out to be a fairly smart performance, especially considering Venetia Williams’ charge was giving the future Festival hero weight.
He won’t have an opponent in the same mould this time round in what looks a pretty weak renewal of the Grade 2 at the Berkshire track, making his chance of success even greater.
The aforementioned duo are the only two of the five opponents that come off better at the weights than Williams’ horse, but both have plenty of questions to answer.
Since finishing a tailed off 11th in the Grand National in April, Rocky Creek has gone on to be pulled up in both the Bet365 Gold Cup and the Grand Sefton Chase, either side of an eight length defeat to Don Cossack at Down Royal.
That second place position to the Gold Cup hope might not read too badly but considering Paul Nicholls’ charge could only finish a neck in front of Roi Du Mee – who is rated six pounds inferior – there is obviously room for improvement.
The second-favourite for the Denman Chase, Ballynagour, has had his fair share of problems with bleeding issues seeing his career stutter in recent years.
His last two runs don’t give an awful lot of hope either, being pulled up in the King George and beaten 110 lengths in the Charlie Hall Chase, although this race is an obvious drop in class.
Instead a chance can be taken with the third-favourite for the contest to expose any flaws in the front two.
A fourth-place finish in an attritional Classic Chase at Warwick off top-weight last time shows that the former Hennessy Gold Cup runner up still retains plenty of ability after a couple of below-par runs at the start of the season.
Having been competing at trips further than the one he will encounter on Saturday could be seen as a negative, but the presence of Rocky Creek and West Wales National winner Bob Ford in the field – two horses that stay further – could make the race a test.
Besides, Houblon Des Obeaux’s chase form over three miles or shorter reads 1142211322984, suggesting that he should definitely be running a race of sorts on the rain-softened ground.
Venetia Williams’ charge would be the lowest-rated winner of the race in its history, but with no stand-out star in this year’s renewal a chance has to be taken on this 7/2 shot.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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