Only three horses have won the Hennessy Gold Cup more than once and each was a superstar of the sport. You would never put Smad Place in the same bracket as Mandarin (1957 and 1961), Arkle (1964 and 1965) and Denman (2007 and 2009) but the grey is backable for back-to-back wins in the Newbury showpiece at 14/1.
However, if you wish to identify an ideal Hennessy type then Native River must not be dismissed. The horse is trained by Colin Tizzard and the potential champion is the only the third best horse in the yard after Cue Card and Thistlecrack. The dairy farmer from Dorset has suddenly struck upon three horses to go to war with in the major races. In theory all three could run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup as they are proven at the highest level and are safe jumpers so the trainer has an embarrassment of riches in the staying chasers division.
The Hennessy Gold Cup represents one of the longest sponsorship deals in the sport. It is one of a small number of races that is best known through the name of the race sponsors, just like the Whitbread at Sandown despite the race now being called the bet365 Gold Cup. The ‘Hennessy’ will always be the three miles two furlongs handicap chase run on the last Saturday in November at Newbury. The race may lose its title sponsor soon but just would not sound the same as the 32Red Chase or something similar! For many people it will forever be the Hennessy.
There is a theory that horses from the bottom of the handicap have an advantage in staying chases but the Hennessy is no ordinary handicap. It has provided countless pointers to future Grand Nationals and Gold Cups. Since 2003 only three winners carried less than 11 stone. The race is more akin to the Gold Cup due to the relentless pace that only the class horses can maintain over more than three miles.
In fact all of the last 10 winners had won a Class 1or 2 chase and all but one had recorded a Racing Post Rating of 151 or higher. The race used to favour those carrying lighter weights but the trends have shifted in favour of horses near the top of the handicap. Seven winners over the last ten years had previously won at Newbury which makes Smad Place one of the leading trends contenders. As a former winner of the Hennessy by definition Smad Place has won a chase over three miles or more which as another key trend from the last 10 renewals.
He has been allocated one more pound than last year when he won the race well and this has been the early season target this time. The horse is just below Gold Cup standard and made an encouraging start to the campaign over a trip too short and ground that rode too fast. Smad Place can join those three immortals of jumps racing history by winning the Hennessy Gold Cup for the second time.
Native River won a Grade 1 novices chase at the Aintree Grand National meeting last season. The Newbury spectacular is often the target for horses just out of novice chasing company. Blaklion won the championship race for the division at the Cheltenham Festival in March and ran a decent prep race in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. However, Native River beat Blaklion by almost seven lengths of level weights at Aintree and is set to carry just one pound more than that horse in the Hennessy. He can win off the weight and fits the profile of recent winners.
Henri Parry Morgan split Native River and Blaklion over three miles at Aintree and with 10 stone six pounds to carry should not be ruled out of the Hennessy. The horse does not stand out based on race trends but has a racing weight and has won over three miles. Henri Parry Morgan could be overpriced at 20/1 and his trainer, Peter Bowen, is optimistic, saying in the Racing Post:
“He’s in good form. He worked at Ffos Las recently and went really well. He won’t mind good ground: good to soft is about right for him”.
After an exceptionally dry autumn the rain has come in good time and conditions will suit Henri Parry Morgan at Newbury. The horse is closely matched with Native River and Blaklion and could prove to be the one to take out of the Aintree race but Smad Place is preferred.