Newbury Racecourse's biggest racedays: can local hero Smad Place win the Hennessy again?
Newbury Racecourse is getting ready for next week's bet365 Festival meeting. The Festival, now reduced to two days, includes the sixtieth running of the Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday, November 26. For punters there is a great deal of local interest among the entries aiming for a share of the £600,000 in prize money.
Many local hopes will be pinned on the nine year-old grey Smad Place who won the Hennessy last year with a storming run.
The Hennessy, with a prize fund of £200,000, is a handicap chase over an extended three and a quarter miles. It has been won by six greys and only three horses have won the race twice (Mandarin, Arkle and Denman.)
Trained at Barbury Castle by Alan King and ridden by King's stable jockey Wayne Hutchinson, Smad Place will be 11lbs higher in the weights this year - and may yet go higher.
In his prep race, the Old Roan Handicap at Aintree last month, he was beaten by four lengths into fourth and only lost third place by a neck. This was a shorter chase than the Hennessy.
The opinion at the Barbury Castle stables was that they were was pleased with his performance: "He jumped pleasingly and did all his best work between the last two obstacles. That will set him up nicely with the view to defending his Hennessy crown next month."
On Tuesday three trainers - two of them as local as Lambourn - took horses to Newbury racecourse for pre-race exercise. Nicky Henderson - whose horses have won the Hennessy three times - took Hennesy entries Triolo D'Alene (Hennessy winner in 2013) and Vyta Du Roc - and Newbury hurdle entry Omessa Has. Vyta Du Roc may not make the cut for the Hennessy - there is a safety limit on the field of 24 horses.
After the exercise session, Nicky Henderson was happy with his Hennessy pair: "Both Triolo D'Alene and Vyta Du Rock worked well this morning. That will have helped them a lot because we were held up by the dry spell."
"The weights will probably go up in the Hennessy and the race is looking open and you can see all sorts of horses that will be competitive, but you are never going to find a soft Hennessy - everybody wants to win it. I am hoping for lovely ground for Triolo D'Alene, who does not want it soft. I love Triolo and it would be great to see him come back and win the Hennessy again."
Henderson also worked ex-French four-year-old filly Omessa Has, with jockey Daryl Jacob up. She is being aimed at the listed bet365 Intermediate Limited Handicap Hurdle over two miles on the same card as the Hennessy Gold Cup.
Henderson is a huge fan of the Hennessy - and of the racecourse: "Newbury is my local track. I was born and bred about 10 miles away and the Hennessy is very, very special and has got a magic about it. It's right up there with the very best races. Luckily, we have won it three times and would like to win it again. Newbury is a great racecourse and probably has the fairest track in the country - we love running horses here."
Neil Mulholland, who trains at Limpley Stoke near Bath, brought Carole's Destrier - accompanied by his stable companion The Young Master. Carole's Destrier proved his stamina with a narrow victory in the London National at Sandown last December - a longer race than the Hennessy. At present Carole's Destrier is a 50-1 shot.
Neil Mulholland was happy with the work Carole's Destrier did, but would like a little more rain before the race: "James King, who rode him today, was pleased and that work will hopefully have put the horse right."
With the advantage of warmer weather, Newbury's grass appeared lush and still growing. And joining in the exercise session was Many Clouds - who won the Hennessy in 2014 and is the only horse to have won both the Hennessy and the Grand National (2015). He is back on the Grand National trail again this year - in last year's running he found the ground too soft.
Many Clouds' trainer, Oliver Sherwood said he was disappointed not to have an entry for the Hennessy: "The Hennessy is the biggest race of the season for local trainers. It's the big races we all aspire to and this one is big."