Irish trainer John ‘Shark’ Hanlon recently asked whether he was mad to think his horse Hewick could win the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup. Since the colourful Irishman has never had a runner in the Gold Cup and since the horse in question cost around £800, there was almost certainly a resounding reply from both sides of the Irish Sea: ‘Yes, you are totally bonkers.’
I would be very surprised if the likes of Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Henry de Bromhead and Paul Nicholls are quaking in their boots at the prospect of taking on Hanlon’s improving handicapper on St Patrick’s Day (17 March). But I am not so sure that the affable Irish handler is at all crazy to think that Hewick does have a real chance of lifting this season’s premier title at the Festival.
In an interview with the Racing Post this month, Hanlon reported that Hewick had come back from a break at his owner’s stables looking stronger and ‘a million dollars’. He added: ‘Am I mad to think he has got a massive chance of winning a Gold Cup? If he gets good ground, I think he’s got every chance. We will give him a couple of bits of work from now until March, but I’m not going to run him beforehand. I want to go straight there and hopefully the ground will have dried out nicely by the Friday.’
I must confess I have a slight bias towards the horse because, when writing my previous tipping column, I put him up as a great bet at 33-1 to win last year’s bet365 Gold Cup (that’s the Whitbread in old money). Hewick duly romped home by eight lengths under a lovely ride from claimer Jordan Gainford off a rating of 149. Today, after some more top runs in Ireland and the US, the official handicapper has Hewick on a mark of 167, within touching distance of the very best chasers in Ireland and Britain.