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Racing: Wave of optimism over Tidal Bay's chances

Tidal Bay can provide Paul Nicholls with a first Hennessy Gold Cup since the great Denman struck for a second time three years ago.

'Enigmatic' and 'mercurial' became well-worn epithets whenever this 11-year-old stepped on to a racecourse for previous trainer Howard Johnson, for whom he invariably lurched from the sublime to the ridiculous.

But following an inauspicious start for new connections, Nicholls looks to have finally ironed out enough of his kinks to put him bang in contention for Newbury's race of the season.

Tidal Bay arrives in Berkshire in pursuit of a hat-trick, with a runaway victory in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown in April supplemented by a splendid success in the John Smith's Hurdle at Wetherby upon his return.

Like Denman, Nicholls' inmate must shoulder top weight of 11st 12lb in the Hennessy.

That is not ideal, of course, but it is more about his frame of mind than the size of the burden – as ably demonstrated at Sandown.

The demanding conditions also play to his considerable strengths as the 2008 Arkle winner has often had a fondness for a skirmish in the mud.

Bobs Worth aside, this year's Hennessy does not look a vintage renewal, so it seems logical to support one of the classiest horses in the line-up – even though his followers could be in for yet another harem-scarem afternoon.

Big Buck's' chances of winning the Sportingbet Long Distance Hurdle for a fourth consecutive time are far more obvious.

Nicholls' astounding hurdler will be no sort of price for this Grade 2 over three miles as he bids for an 18th consecutive victory.

Regardless of what the ground is like, it will be one of the surprises of the season if that remarkable sequence comes to a halt.

Ruby Walsh is expected to be fit to ride despite being stood down after a fall at the course yesterday.

Walsh suffered a fall aboard Curtain Razer in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle, with the racecourse doctor ruling him out of his two remaining rides on the card.

The jockey is planning to be back in action today, with Tidal Bay in the Hennessy and Big Buck's in the Long Distance Hurdle the pick of his Newbury rides.

* Timmy Murphy was taken to hospital for precautionary X-rays yesterday after taking a heavy fall at Newbury. Murphy was partnering Leeroar in the closing Inkerman London "National Hunt" Maiden Hurdle when the duo fell at the third flight. A racecourse spokesman said: "He has been taken for precautionary X-rays on his back." Murphy is due to ride The Package for trainer David Pipe in today's Hennessy Gold Cup at the Berkshire venue.

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