It’s a race with a rich history and a stunning roll of honour.
Established in 1957 and originally run at Cheltenham, the Hennessy Gold Cup was transferred to Newbury in 1960. Run over the same trip as the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 3 miles and 2½ furlongs, the race has been won by some of Jump racings all-time greats.
Arkle took the race as a seven and eight-year-old back in 1964 and 1965. Trained by Tom Dreaper in County Meath, and owned by the Duchess of Westminster, Anne Grosvenor, the wonderfully talented chaser was named after a mountain the stands on the border of the owner’s estate in Northern Scotland. An imposing natural phenomenon that has stood imperious over the Sutherland landscape for more than 500 million years seems appropriate for this legendary racehorse.
A glorious period in the early eighties saw further epic victories for Jump racing royalty. Fulke Walwyn trained Diamond Edge to success; Michael Dickinson and Graham Bradley teamed up to win with Bregawn and then Jenny Pitman and John Francome were the famous combination for the wonderfully talented Burrough Hill Lad. All won under the enormous burden of top-weight.
In more recent times the undeniable hero of the Hennessy was the mighty Denman. It’s always a pleasure to include this sensational racehorse in an article, and reminisce over his incredible achievements. Such equine heroes are one of the main reasons we become hooked on this wonderful sport.
A son of Presenting, Denman was trained by Paul Nicholls and fondly known by the racing public as ‘The Tank’. Owned by Paul Barber and Harry Findlay, the raw five-year-old started out as a novice hurdler in the winter of 2005. He won his first two races at Wincanton; the second in particular an impressive all the way romp. Stepped up in class for his third appearance, he took the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle, run at Cheltenham, by a yawning 20 lengths.
Few doubted that we had witnessed the arrival of a new racing star. Another with similar credentials had mirrored Denman’s achievements during the winter and many hoped for a clash in March at the Cheltenham Festival. However, the unbeaten Black Jack Ketchum ran in the three miler at the Festival, winning easily, whilst Nicholls’ charge was to meet with his first defeat when caught for speed by Nicanor in the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle over two miles and five furlongs.
There was never a doubt that fences would bring out the best in this giant horse, and sure enough his novice chase campaign brought five wins from five outings, culminating in a stunning victory in the RSA at Cheltenham.
His first appearance out of novice company came in the 2007 Hennessy, when off top-weight he slaughtered all-comers in one of the most awesome displays of raw power. Just a few months later he was to savage a high-class field, (which included one of the all-time great chasers Kauto Star) when victorious in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
That incredible performance appeared to leave its mark, and a period on the side-lines followed due to a heart condition. Yet incredibly, just 18 months after his famous Cheltenham Gold Cup success, he was back at Newbury winning another Hennessy, hauling top-weight to a mind-blowing success. Though sent off favourite for that famous win in November 2009, few could believe what they were witnessing as he tenaciously fought off the challenge from stable companion What A Friend. It was classic Denman.
The Hennessy Gold Cup is rightly seen as one of the great races during the winter months. The likes of Arkle, Burrough Hill Lad and Denman have caught the imagination and left an indelible mark on the events illustrious past.