SUNDAY TIMES, 2nd December 2012
The biggest compliment was the lack of fuss. Despite not having run since Cheltenham last March, Bob’s Worth was made favourite for this Hennessy Gold Cup and duly came unobtrusively through the 19 runner field to take over from the trail blazing First Lieutenant before the last fence and holding him and old stager Tidal Bay off on the run in.
It is in the character of the horse. “You wouldn’t notice him in the string at home,” said trainer Nicky Henderson afterwards. “And you don’t notice him through a race and then suddenly there he is.” What’s more it was in the pattern of his training. Even two weeks ago Bob’s Worth was worrying the Henderson camp with his downbeat demeanour and has only come good in the last few days. “Then at evening stables on Wednesday,” added the trainer, “I turned to Corky (Browne his long term assistant) and said, ‘this is a rose that has just come into bloom.’”
Next morning Bob’s Worth came spinning up the stiff shoulder of the all-weather gallop at Lambourn with his ears pricked. Time was when it would have been deemed impossible to win a Hennessy Gold Cup after a 262 day absence, but the Martin Pipe revolution has changed all that. Pipe won the 1988 Hennessy with Strands of Gold on that horse’s first start of the season and those, and they were legion, who had scoffed at his methods were obliged to imitate and then emulate. This was one of the finest of Henderson’s achievements in his 35 years at Lambourn and is a tribute to how he and his team have moved with the times.
The race seemed to move fast enough. Indeed the pace set by First Lieutenant and Fruity O’Rooney was rapid enough to render last year’s winner Carruthers incapable of adopting his usual front-running tactics and to see much fancied Frisco Depot almost capsize at the very first fence and immediately make Sam Waley-Cohen’s achievement of dieting down to 9 stone 10 lbs the perfect definition of a “wasted” effort.
But up front it was unnecessary effort from the loose horse Alfie Spinner which threatened disaster. Loose horses usually run off course or pull up after a few fences, yet Alfie Spinner seemed to have taken exception to his third fence departure and constantly rejoined his rivals and at any moment could swerve away and take them with him. Indeed he was back in front over the last fence and finally gave the winner a helping hand by giving him and jockey Barry Geraghty a lead all the way to the winning line.
It is to Geraghty’s credit that there was always a sense of calm about his and Bob’s Worth partnership throughout the 21 fence, three and a quarter mile journey which has long represented one of the greatest trials of the jump racing season. Bar an uneasy moment at the open ditch on the first circuit, Bob’s Worth was faultless throughout, working his way into the leading group before the final straight and then taking on First Lieutenant with whom he had fought and won a tremendous duel at Cheltenham on his last appearance. Geraghty’s credit was not confined to jockeyship because it was from him that Bob’s Worth was bought for his redoubtably named and splendidly run owning team the “Not Afraid Partnership.”
But since Geraghty shelled out 16,000 euros for Bob’s Worth as a yearling and only recouped £20,000 three years later for a horse who is now 5-1 favourite for the Gold Cup there is a grain of truth in his quip that “Nicky robbed me.” At only seven years old immortality could still beckon for Bob’s Worth even if he has a few furlongs to run before he can match the extraordinary Big Bucks who two races before the Hennessy won his 18th consecutive race and can truly be regarded as the greatest long distance hurdler of them all.
And to think that if Big Bucks had not unshipped his jockey at the last fence in the 2008 Hennessy he might have continued as a chaser. Might have caused a lot of fuss with it too.