Antepost Angle: Roc star
Matt Brocklebank turns his attention to the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in a bid to unearth the pick of the value in his Antepost Angle column.
Vyta Du Roc ticks the right boxes ahead of the Hennessy
It's going to take a while for Nicky Henderson and his team to recover from Saturday's events but VYTA DU ROC could be able to strike a blow for the next generation of Seven Barrows chasers in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
Nobody has trained as many Hennessy winners as Henderson since his breakthrough success in the great race with Trabolgan in 2005 – Bobs Worth and Triolo D'Alene scoring back-to-back successes for the stable in 2012 and 2013 – and there's little doubt who his best chance is this time around.
Like Trabolgan and Bobs Worth coming into the event, Vyta Du Roc is a seven-year-old with a fair amount of back class to his name and on several pieces of form he's a very nicely handicapped stayer from a mark of 143.
In his early days the grey had enough pace to win the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham a couple of years ago and in the same season took another Grade Two, this time a leading trial for the Neptune over two and a half miles at Sandown.
He was right on the scene in the 2015 Neptune itself and would have finished a lot closer to winner Windsor Park barring a bad blunder at the last flight, ending up fifth, after which he went to Aintree for the Doom Bar Sefton Novices' Hurdle where only Thistlecrack proved too good for him.
Blaklion, Thomas Brown and Roi Des Francs were also among the vanquished in what was clearly a very classy renewal and as expected the switch to fences brought about further improvement in Vyta Du Roc last term.
Debut victory at Bangor over an extended two miles was followed by a close second to last weekend's BetVictor Gold Cup fifth Bouvreuil over an intermediate trip but his standout performance came when stepped up to three miles for the Grade Two Reynoldstown.
His neat jumping really came to the fore at Ascot where he beat subsequent National Hunt Chase winner Minella Rocco (currently rated 155) and Ayr's Future Champions Novices' Chase victor Le Mercurey (152) into second and third. Drumacoo and Onenightinvienna were well beaten off while the race threw up another Festival winner in early faller Ballyalton.
The season took on a bit of a downward trajectory from that point but a good ground RSA Chase was never really going to bring out the best in him and his fifth there was followed by filling the same place in the Scottish Grand National when sent off 8/1 joint-favourite.
On the bare form from Ayr, Henderson's runner has a lot to prove but that effort can be excused right at the end of the season and it's at this time of year when he has really shone in the past.
Last month's reappearance over hurdles at Aintree – the first time he's failed to finish in the first two from seven career starts during the deep winter months of November/December/January/February – was blatantly seen as a good opportunity to get a prep run into him without the fear of damaging his current chase mark. And although ultimately beaten 18 lengths by an opponent he's most likely to face again at Newbury, it's hard to conclude anything other than it being a perfectly satisfying comeback run.
Racing off level weights with the winner Un Temps Pour Tout, he travelled nicely before being outpaced and ended up last of the three finishers having been nursed home by Jeremiah McGrath, but when you consider two and a half miles around a speed track on good to soft ground would hardly be classed as his ideal conditions, he was anything but disgraced.
With fitness tightened and the step back up to three miles, two furlongs certain to prove more suitable, a much better end product is anticipated a week on Saturday.
Paul Nicholls unsurprisingly has a plethora of chances and while Irish Saint could be an interesting runner following his eyecatching return from injury over timber at Cheltenham, it's hard to get away from the idea that Saphir Du Rheu represents team Ditcheat's main hope.
While the temptation to look for the most unexposed second-season chaser with potential to progress is strong, more established performers have excelled in the Hennessy in recent years.
Of those relatively experienced horses, Madison Du Berlais, Carruthers and Smad Place were all having their second crack at the Hennessy, finishing fourth, sixth and fifth respectively before earning their owners a coveted jeroboam of Hennessy XO with victory at the Berkshire track.
It is far from beyond the realms of possibility then that last year's fifth Saphir Du Rheu can step up and take top spot and the handicapper has certainly given him a huge shout as he's 10lb lower than last November.
The obvious negative is that he was beaten from a 1lb lower mark on his seasonal bow at Ascot recently and from where he can find the necessary improvement given he regressed so swiftly from his excellent reappearance at Carlisle 12 months ago.
Other interesting contenders include Henri Parry Morgan, who comes here fresh after making immense progress last term, and Noel Meade's returning Wounded Warrior who is tantalisingly treated on his form with Don Poli, Valseur Lido and Don Cossack.
But a prep run is always preferred ahead of such a demanding test of stamina and it's Vyta Du Roc who looks best equipped to cope with the Hennessy test and he's fancied to put a smile back on the face of a man who was recently dealt a seismic double-blow that was felt throughout the National Hunt landscape.
Posted at 1220 GMT on 15/11/16.
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