Smad Place shone brightest on a ‘Grey Day’ at Newbury. Alan King nailed the preparation this time round, and his gorgeous eight-year-old delivered a power-packed display to win the Hennessy Gold Cup.
He is yet another horse to prosper from a breathing op with the old epiglottis getting the treatment. That clearly played a part in this demolition job, along with a more aggressive racing style and that all important prep-run at Kempton earlier in the month.
Rarely has a horse been so dominant in this most prestigious event. Prominent from the off, the stunning grey slugged it out with Fingal Bay for much of the race, with jockey Wayne Hutchinson sending him to the front with a full circuit to go. He gradually got the field on the stretch; spring-heeled at his fences, relentlessly and remorselessly applying the pressure. By the second last fence the race was all but over, and a stunning leap at the last sealed the deal.
After the race an exhilarated Wayne Hutchinson said: “I'm absolutely thrilled to bits. He was fab and it's all come together this year. He loved it out in front at Kempton and I said 'can I do the same please'. He didn't miss a beat.”
For trainer Alan King, this was the second ‘Big-Saturday’ success in just three weeks, following on from Annacotty’s win in the Paddy Power at Cheltenham. He was clearly taken aback by the display, saying: “We hoped for a good run but that took my breath away. Full credit to Wayne - I'm not sure those were the tactics we discussed! We learnt from last year and giving him a prep he's a different horse. He deserved a big one and we learnt from Kempton that he likes being up there. It was a ballsy ride.”
Of those in behind, favourite and top-weight Saphir Du Rheu still held every chance turning for home, but faded in the closing stages to a creditable fifth place. His jumping wasn’t foot perfect and a lack of chasing experience was certainly detrimental to his chances. The Gold Cup in March is still the target, and it would be unwise to right him off this early in the campaign. He’s sure to improve as the season progresses, and is undoubtedly a talented horse.
Fingal Bay has been so difficult to keep right over the past few years, and ran a terrific race. I’m not certain he got home in these conditions, and he looked a tired horse over the last two fences. If Philip Hobbs can keep him fit there’s a valuable handicap to be won before the winter is over.
I was fortunate enough to be watching the race just a short distance from First Lieutenant’s trainer Mouse Morris. As the field approached the third last Morris became as animated as he probably gets, grasping for his binoculars as his charge moved through to challenge. I reached for my camera hoping to snap an exuberant trainer doing cartwheels as his beloved chaser charged to a famous victory. Sadly for his trainer, First Lieutenant was unable to bridge the gap, though he did finish a gallant third, providing promise of an exciting season to come.
Theatre Guide was the only horse from off the pace able to land a serious blow, when passing battle-weary opponents to grab second spot. “I’m very happy,” said a thrilled trainer Colin Tizzard. “It was so much like when he came third in the race two years ago. He’ll go for the Welsh National now.”
For the winner, it seems likely that he will next head to Cheltenham in January for the Cotswold Chase, before another shot at the Gold Cup in March. As short as 10/1 in places for chasing’s ‘Blue Riband’, should he arrive in the same shape as at Newbury he would surely make his presence felt in the great race.