Nicky Henderson loves nothing more than having winners at his local track, but landing the prestigious Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury with the UK queen’s Barbers Shop would be what dreams are made of.
Henderson has only once before won the great race with the talented, but fragile, Trabolgan in 2005.
Barbers Shop was last seen in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in which he travelled well for a long way before tiring to finish seventh.
After four winners over the first two days of the Hennessy meeting, Henderson could not have his string in better shape.
“Everything with him is great and he’ll like the ground as it is,” said Henderson.
“I was worried we were going to be racing on very soft ground and I’m amazed how good it actually is.
“We could have taken on Kauto Star at level weights (in the Betfair Chase) or come here to race against Denman getting weight – I thought it was worth a try.
“He ran a fantastic race first time out last season in the Paddy Power so I wouldn’t worry about that (lack of a run).”
The race has been turned on its head by the presence of Denman, Paul Nicholls’ 2007 Hennessy winner who later went on to land the Gold Cup in the same season.
But after an interrupted campaign last term, joint-owner Harry Findlay is under no illusions the nine-year-old has a fair bit to prove.
“I had a decent bet two years ago when he won, but I won’t be having a bet tomorrow,” said Findlay.
“It’s a big day for Denman, we’ll either have him back and he’ll be a contender for everything or maybe it’s over. We’ll find out tomorrow exactly where we stand.
“He’s never looked anything but good there (Newbury) and if he wasn’t putting in a good run tomorrow, I think we would be in trouble.
“At his best when he won the Gold Cup he was just fantastic and if he runs like that he would win, but I find him hard to price up.”
Sam Thomas was on board two years ago but this time he will be on stablemate What A Friend, with Ruby Walsh on Denman.
“The only time he’s lost over fences is in the RSA Chase behind Cooldine,” Thomas said of his big-race mount.
“He’s in good form, I gave him a school a few days ago and he jumped well so I couldn’t be happier with him.
“Denman has done wonders for my career so I’d love to see him come back and run well.
“His record is there for everybody to see so I hope he runs well.”
David Pipe won the Hennessy last year with Madison Du Berlais and runs a similar type in An Accordion, who has had only one run since winning at the 2007 Cheltenham Festival.
“He’s had breathing problems and we’ve tried to correct them,” said Pipe.
“If they are corrected, obviously he’s a very decent horse.
“He’s got a great weight because of Denman. It’s a big ask and we won’t know until we get on the track if the wind operation has worked, but he’s in very good form at home.
“Unfortunately we won’t know until about a mile from home if it has worked.”
Nineteen aspirants will now bid for Hennessy glory after New Alco and Casey Jones were withdrawn on Friday.
Hennessy Gold Cup
William Hill bet: 4-1 Denman, 6-1 Barbers Shop, 7-1 What A Friend, 8-1 Killyglen, 17-2 Cappa Bleu, 14-1 State Of Play, 16-1 Gone To Lunch, Ballyfitz, 18-1 Nenuphar Collonges, 20-1 Snowy Morning, 28-1 bar.