Established in 1957 and originally run at Cheltenham, the Hennessy Gold Cup arrived at Newbury in 1960. Mandarin, Arkle and Denman are the only horses to have won the race twice, with all three going on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Eight horses have achieved the famous double with Bobs Worth being the latest.
Paul Nicholls won the race twice as a jockey in the 80’s and has been successful three times as a trainer since 2003. Denman’s incredible weight carrying successes of 2007 and 2009 will live long in the memory.
No horse older than nine has won the race since Diamond Edge carried 11 stone 10lbs as a ten-year-old to win in 1981. His victory was the start of a golden period for the race, with Bregawn and Burrough Hill Lad successful in two of the following three years.
One Man was a sensational winner of the race in 1994 at the age of six. His victory came just eight months after disappointing in the Sun Alliance at The Festival as a novice chaser. A winner of the King George on two occasions, his success in the Hennessy was made to look all the more incredible, when as a ten-year-old, some four years later, he won the Champion Chase at Cheltenham over two miles. One Man was never able to conquer the famous Cheltenham Hill over extended trips, but found the galloping flat track of Newbury, far more to his liking.
The race has been won by six or seven-year-olds on 12 occasions since 1999. This certainly confirms the belief that the race tends to go to improving, often second season chasers. Nicky Henderson has a strong recent record with three wins in the last nine renewals, including victories in the last two with Bobs Worth and Triolo D’Alene.
The latter will attempt to become the fourth horse to win this great race on two occasions, when he runs off joint top weight on Saturday. This year’s showpiece will be run on very different ground from last year, and his handicap mark stands 10lbs higher. This goes to show the gravity of the task he has to face.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls runs Rocky Creek, who was runner-up in the race 12 months ago. He is also higher in the handicap, but interestingly arrives this time on the back of a prep-run in Ireland.
The Ditcheat team also have Unioniste in the race. Something of a forgotten force, he shot to fame in 2012, when winning the Paul Stewart Gold Cup at Cheltenham on bottomless ground as a mere four-year-old. He has winning form at Newbury, and runs in the famous John Hales silks, who coincidently also owned the aforementioned star chaser One Man. It would be some story if this young chaser could capture the prize for his celebrated owner.
This year’s event appears full of potentially captivating stories. Fingal Bay returns to chasing after injury and a brief campaign back over hurdles. His last appearance over the larger obstacles culminated in him crashing through the wings at Exeter. It would be some training feat, bringing him back over fences to win such a prestigious race. There’s little doubt that Philip Hobbs is the man for such a job. His stable has rarely been in such a rich vein of form.
Djakadam appears the punters favourite leading up to the race. Willie Mullins chaser is a youngster at five, and has also had only three runs over fences. Like Fingal Bay, his last attempt ended in spectacular failure, when hitting the deck at Cheltenham back in March. He would make history by becoming the youngest ever winner of the race. He does have a rather powerful ally in jockey Ruby Walsh.
A victory for The Druids Nephew would be a spectacular turn-around in fortunes for trainer Neil Mulholland, after the well-publicised events at Wincanton. The horse ran a belter recently at Cheltenham and has Gold Cup winning jockey Davy Russell on board.
The Moore brothers Joshua and Jamie are set to ride in the race for father Gary. And then there’s the Skelton brothers hoping to achieve their greatest victory, in what has already been a wonderful season thus far.
The history of the Hennessy Gold Cup is littered with tales of the great and good. Equine legends have arrived at Newbury and conquered in one of the season’s great steeplechases. Saturday’s showpiece looks set to further enhance one of racing’s most prestigious events.