It’s a Smad World in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury
Eight-year-old Smad Place, fifth in the Hennessy Gold Cup last season, dominated the iconic handicap chase over three and a quarter miles at Newbury today, Saturday, November 28, day three of the bet365 Festival, and won impressively for owner Trish Andrews, trainer Alan King and jockey Wayne Hutchinson under 11st 4lb at 7/1.
The grey, the sixth of his colour to succeed in the 59 runnings of the Hennessy Gold Cup, romped home by 12 lengths in tremendous style and is now priced at between 10/1 and 16/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Smad Place jumped wonderfully from the beginning and Hutchinson soon had his mount racing in second, took the lead after the ninth fence and then never looked like relinquishing the advantage in Newbury’s richest jump race, worth a record £200,000 this year.
The Hennessy Gold Cup once again delivered a race of the highest quality, with Theatre Guide (Colin Tizzard/Paddy Brennan, 12/1) running on to take second and Irish challenger First Lieutenant (Mouse Morris/Mark Enright, 20/1) a neck further back in third. Fingal Bay (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson) came home fourth, another nine lengths in arrears, while the 9/2 favourite, top-weight Saphir Du Rheu (Paul Nicholls/Sam Twiston-Davies), was prominent throughout but could find no more after the last and finished fifth, with the 2012 winner Bob’s Worth (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville, 11/2) in sixth. There were two non-runners, Fox Appeal and The Druids Nephew, and 15 ran.
Alan King, who trains at Barbury Castle in Wiltshire, said: “We fancied Smad Place big-time in this race last year but made the mistake of coming here with no prep run – that finished off his season.
“So that is why we decided to go to Kempton first with him this year. He got his nose back in front which helped to get his confidence back. He has always been a classy horse.
“It was a very ballsy ride from Wayne (Hutchinson) – I wasn’t expecting him to be quite so bold! We were going to have Smad Place handy but I was in state of shock with a circuit to go.
“Smad Place really loves to be handy and measures his fences very well. He was third in a World Hurdle behind Big Buck’s as a five-year-old so stamina was not going to be an issue.
“The horse had his ears pricked and I could see from three out that none of the others were really travelling. I knew after that that he would win providing he didn’t do something silly.
“He won’t be entered for the Grand National but he will have to have an entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Smad Place has his confidence back – he won’t have a lot of racing this season – one run before the Cheltenham Festival – he won’t go for the King George.
“I am very proud of my team. It has been a difficult week for them as we lost a young lad, John Goggin, following a car crash last weekend. While today is obviously great, it doesn’t bring him back.
Wayne Hutchinson said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to bits – Smad Place was fab. It has all come together this year – the boss (Alan King) was very hard on himself last year for coming straight to the Hennessy with the horse.
“Hats off to the boss, he knew exactly what he was going to do this time around. Smad Place loved being out in front at Kempton in his previous race, going from fence to fence in his comfort zone. I was really confident that that was the way to ride him. I said to the guvnor ‘can we do the same again today?’
“I put my neck a little bit on the line because I don’t think the boss thought I was going to be that positive. Smad Place has been placed in two World Hurdles and was keen with me last season in the Cotswold Chase, hit a flat spot and then stayed on again. So I thought he wanted to use his gears and get on with things – thankfully Smad Place has proved me right and kept me in a job!
“Smad Place certainly enjoyed himself and so did I. He was almost foot perfect – he might have got in tight to one in the straight but that would be nit-picking. When you are on a horse of his quality, they do the work for you – it is a case of just steering. It was a thrill.
“Today he jumped from fence to fence and was just relentless. It was a nice feeling to jump the last. When I saw the replay, I was astonished to see how far he had won by. The ground was soft but the horses got through it.
“It is fantastic to win such a prestigious race as the Hennessy. I have been coming here to watch it since I was young, I think the first one I saw was Ever Blessed winning in 1999. Success has not come overnight but the boss has always supported me.
“From a handicap point of view, that is it, he is going to have to step back up into graded races but that is a strong division. I am just delighted with today – he has won his big pot – and now it is onwards and upwards.
“It is great – the first big Saturday winner for me this season, while the boss won the Paddy Power, another valuable handicap, two weeks ago. The team is in great form.”
The crowd today for Hennessy Gold Cup Day, the third and final day of the bet365 Festival at Newbury racecourse, came to 18,121.
This compares to 17,351 in 2014 and is the highest attendance on Hennessy Gold Cup Day for 21 years, with 18.203 attending in 1994.
Thistlecrack new Long Distance star
The main supporting race, the £45,000 bet365 Hurdle over three miles, saw 7/2 shot Thistlecrack (Colin Tizzard/Tom Scudamore) score by six lengths from Deputy Dan (Oliver Sherwood/Leighton Aspell, 20/1), with last year’s winner and reigning Ladbrokes World Hurdle champion Cole Harden (Warren Greatrex/Gavin Sheehan, 2/1) a further half-length back in third.
Colin Tizzard said of the winner: “Thistlecrack has built into a big, strong horse. I told everyone he needed the run but that he might be classy enough to win anyway.
“He has jumped brilliantly and never missed a beat. I thought today would tell us whether he is good enough to go for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham and he is. He handled the ground well, although I don’t think he needs it soft. It was a brilliant performance.
“His next target is likely to be the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot next month.”
Thistlecrack is now 10/1 (from 20/1) with Ladbrokes for World Hurdle glory at Cheltenham in March.
Warren Greatrex said of Cole Harden: “He has jumped and travelled well. Gavin said he should have been harder on him a bit earlier as he just can’t quicken on that ground.
“He has stayed on and Gavin said he felt as good as ever. He should be a lot fitter come March.
“He will now go back to Cheltenham for either the Relkeel or the Cleeve – he won’t run in both – and then straight to The Festival.”
Gavin Sheehan 494/1 treble wins Stobart award
The first running of the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase, over an extended two and three quarter miles, saw a comfortable nine-length victory for Aloomomo (Warren Greatrex/Gavin Sheehan, 5/1), who was winning his third consecutive race.
Greatrex, who trains in Upper Lambourn, said: “Ray (Anderson-Green) kindly sent me this horse last season. He was riddled with ulcers but had been a nice horse in France previously.
“Based on what I was told about him, the first time he ran for me was over three and a quarter miles at Carlisle. After that, as Ray loves Ayr, he had a run over hurdles at the Scottish Grand National meeting when he ran OK.
“He was great in winning his first two races this season and was brilliant today. He has travelled like the wrath of God. He jumps, is progressive and handles the soft. Gavin said he did go slightly right at a couple today so he may be even better going right-handed.
“He is only a five-year-old, a relative novice, and loves this soft ground. I think he will get three miles. He jumps brilliantly and really attacks his fences – Gavin said he is always bang there when you want him.”
Tea In Transvaal (Evan Williams/Paul Moloney) recorded a gutsy victory from the front in the opening Listed Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, scoring by six lengths from Irish challenger Colla Pier (Patrick Moloney/Robert Dunne). She was returned the 11/8 favourite.
Evan Williams said: “She is a great little mare and it was important to get some black type for her.
“I thought she was a certainty today as she was well in at the weights and had been so well at home. It looked the ideal opportunity.
“She probably just went a bit quick in front at Cheltenham last time and got caught. It also probably came a bit quick after her win at Chepstow.
“It is hard enough to win one race and now she has won five. She has been on the go a while now but while mares are in form you have to keep rolling the dice. We will have a look and try and find something else for her.”
Arzal (Harry Whittington/Gavin Sheehan) was the convincing 13-length winner of the bet365.com Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Oxfordshire-based Whittington has enjoyed a superb season so far, with his strike-rate standing at over 30 per cent.
He said of the 9/2 shot: “That was brilliant. We discussed it during the week and decided to come here rather than running him under a penalty at Plumpton on Monday. It was a no-brainer really and I though he was well handicapped with a rating of 136.
“Gavin has been down to school him at home and the horse has been going brilliantly.
“He got a bit low a couple of times today but I think he is just quick in getting from A to B.
“It has been a great two months for us. I think that is our 11th winner from 22 runners since the start of September.”
Gavin Sheehan secured a 494/1 treble in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle when partnering 14/1 shot Royal Guardsman (Ali Stronge) to a game head success over Ibis Du Rheu (Paul Nicholls/Sam Twiston-Davies).
The Stobart Leading Jockey Award at the bet365 Festival went to Sheehan, who recorded five winners over the three days including his treble today.
Stronge, who is based not far from Newbury at Eastbury, commented: “That was very good. He has been showing us lots at home, likes Newbury and the jockey could not be in better form. Royal Guardsman did well and really battled.
“Some of ours need a run when they come back (Royal Guardsman had not run for 203 days) to put them spot on and we thought he probably needed slightly better ground but sometimes he can get a bit outpaced so maybe the conditions helped him today.
“He is the best horse in the yard so it is so nice to win a big Saturday race with him.
“The plan was to go chasing with him this year but there was not lots in the calendar so as Newbury is only down the road from us, we decided to give it a go. I am not sure whether he will go chasing or stay over hurdles. He needs time between his races so we will see.”
The final race of the bet365 Festival, the bet365 Handicap Chase over an extended two miles, went to top-weight Grey Gold (Kerry Lee/Jamie Moore, 10/1), who dug deep to hold off the challenge of Whispering Harry (Henry Oliver/James Davies) by a length. Lee, who used to work for Channel 4 Racing, is in her first season as a trainer and this was her initial Newbury winner.
The going for Hennessy Gold Cup Day was officially described Soft on the Chase course and Soft, Heavy in places on the Hurdle Course.