Smad Place (nearest the camera) and Midnight Prayer check out Newbury's going (Photo courtesy Newbury Racecourse & GJ Multimedia)Barbury Castle trainer Alan King talks to Harriet Rochester about next Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup
Next Saturday (29 November), marks the 58th running of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury Racecourse. The race is one of the most significant handicap chases this side of Christmas. And Hennessy’s sponsorship of the race is the longest running commercial sponsorship in world sport.
Rich in horseracing heritage, the race’s winners include such names as Arkle and Denman, who both won the race twice – taking pride of place on its distinguished roll of honour. The Hennessy Gold Cup is the jewel in the crown of the Berkshire track’s jump racing calendar and of the three day Bet365 Hennessy Festival, featuring two further fantastic days of racing on the Thursday and Friday.
Marlborough’s Alan King is planning a two pronged attack on the historic race with Smad Place and Midnight Prayer as his two confirmed runners, with a third, Medermit, also holding an entry, but likely to run at Haydock on Saturday. [Medermit did run at Haydock today (November 22) and was unplaced in the Betfair Chase.]
Smad Place leads up the all-weather gallop (February 2014)Smad Place who has not seen a racecourse since he was beaten a neck by O’Faolains Boy in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last March is currently priced at 10/1. The gallant grey had a progressive and impressive campaign last season, beating Sam Winner in February this year. He also was the convincing winner in a novice chase at Exeter last November.
Smad Place took part in a racecourse spin at Newbury on Tuesday along with stable mate Midnight Prayer, whose last race was also at the Cheltenham Festival when he won the four mile chase for amateur jockeys.
“It wasn’t serious work, but they both enjoyed it. They just cantered quickly down the back, breezed along – neither had a hard blow, they just did enough”, King explained at Newbury’s media launch.
Speaking from his yard on Friday, Alan King told Marlborough News Online: “Smad Place’s form is very strong and progressive, his win against Sam Winner in February has franked this.”
“His racecourse gallop on Tuesday should also tune him up nicely before next Saturday and he will work tomorrow and school next week, the only question mark is who will ride, as I am not sure if Wayne Hutchinson will be ready”.
Wayne Hutchinson is Alan’s stable jockey along with Robert Thornton. They have both been side-lined with injuries.
“Midnight Prayer’s main target is the Welsh National after Christmas and to be honest there aren’t too many options for him. His form is also very good and I am not worried about dropping him back in trip from four miles especially on soft going”.
In previous years King has not had many runners in the race and has yet to saddle a winner in the race: “I love this fixture and its history and it would be marvellous to win the Hennessy”.
Newbury Racecourse’s Bet365 Hennessy Festival runs from Thursday 27 to Saturday 29 November.
Last Friday: Andrew Nicholson with AveburyWhen Andrew Nicholson opens his front door he is smiling - is it a good news smile? "I've been riding this morning." That is very good news indeed.
New Zealand eventer Andrew Nicholson, who suffered a very serious neck injury in a fall during the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park in August, is back in the saddle. For the past week he has been riding daily dressage exercises at his stables just west of Marlborough.
He had a scan at the beginning of last week, and on Wednesday (December 9) his surgeon at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital, Jeremy Reynolds, was "very positive" and gave him the all clear to ride again. Nicholson told Marlborough News Online that all the bits of his neck are still in the right place: "What the surgeon did was unbelievable. Mr Reynolds is a very clever man."
For now he is sticking to dressage and keeping it "calm and quiet for a bit longer". But he says it feels "very comfortable" to be back riding and schooling on the dressage arena.
Nicholson knows that he has been very lucky. In 98 per cent of cases that severe an injury to his neck would have caused paralysis: "What I did was a very serious thing to do to your neck. Now the flexibility in my neck is improving all the time."
He fell from nine-year-old Cillnabradden Evo at the final fence of the cross country course during the CIC 3* competition at Gatcombe Park on August 9. He had already ridden four horses round that cross country course - and after Cillnabradden Evo he would have taken Perfect Stranger and Nereo over the course.
Now he is taking it week by week and there are 'ifs' and 'mights' to overcome: "I never doubted I'd be back riding. I'd like to get back to competing - I don't have to rush it. If I feel I'm not as good as I used to be I won't do it. I might jump and think I'm getting nervous - who knows."
...and with NereoNicholson has eighteen horses at his stables. They range from the veteran competition winners like fifteen year-olds Avebury (with whom he has won the Barbury feature class four years running and a Burghley hat-trick) and Nereo (voted the world's best eventing horse in 2013) and the twelve-year-old mare Quanza onto the three and four-year-olds just starting their journey to the higher level competitions.
While he has been recovering he has had two young riders - one English and one French - exercising his horses in return for tuition: "They've done a very good job. The horses I have here will be fit to start competing next year - whether it's with me or other riders."
The owners of his squad of horses and his family have been very supportive - especially his wife, Wiggy: "It's very tough on Wiggy - I'm sure she'd prefer me not to sit on a horse again."
"Riding horses is dangerous - you mustn't shy away from that fact. When it's all going smoothly it's fine - but when it goes wrong...half a ton is quite a lot of horse to have landing on you."
He's studied how people fall off animals. While he was recuperating he watched a lot of horse racing: "Jump jockeys expect to take a fall in one out of ten rides."
He also watches Pro Bull Riding from the USA on Sky's Extreme Sport Channel: "That's got to be among the most dangerous things there is. The bulls are massive - and after the eight seconds riders have to stay on - well, the bulls don't stop for them - they just have to fall off."
His family can be assured that he will not be tempted by horse racing or bull riding.
2016 looms and as the rider who has competed in six Olympics Games for New Zealand and helped them win three Olympic medals, the question will return of Nicholson's position in New Zealand's eventing team.
It's a relationship that's been none too happy: "I wouldn't want to go to the Olympics if I wasn't as good as before. If I'm back competing and they want me, I'd have to think about it."
Avebury at the Avebury fence - from the videoThere are thirteen chalk white horses of Wiltshire. You can top off that unlucky number by adding eventing's Wiltshire wonder horse: Avebury - a grey who now matches the chalk horses for whiteness.
The organisers of the St James's Place Wealth Management Barbury International Horse Trials (July 9-12) are marking Avebury's outstanding successes with a video about him - which you can watch here. This video explains what makes him such a special horse.
In addition, the horse trials, which take place on the Barbury Castle Estate on Marlborough Downs, are renaming their signature fence on the cross country course after Avebury.
Avebury is ridden by Andrew Nicholson, whose stables are at Lockeridge, and owned by Rosemary Barlow. Last year Avebury and Andrew achieved a historic hat trick - winning the prestigious Barbury International three star competition for a third consecutive year.
Avebury was bred by Andrew, raised in Wiltshire and named after the Avebury World Heritage Site - just a few miles from Barbury. And Avebury is a regular visitor to the Barbury Estate where he works on its famous gallops.
Andrew Nicholson explains that Avebury is a straightforward horse who likes the crowds: "Avebury loves Barbury and he also loves the camera so filming this video was good fun. We are all proud of what he has achieved here and look forward to being back at Barbury in a few weeks time.”
Nigel Bunter, Chairman of Barbury International Horse Trials, sees the renaming of their most iconic cross-country fence as a fitting tribute to a wonderful horses: "We hope Avebury fans will enjoy our film on him. We want to encourage as many as possible to visit Barbury in July to see a living legend and maybe history repeating itself with a four timer!"
Another frame from the video
Tickets for the Barbury Horse Trials start from £12 per person per day booked in advance. Children under 12 years go free. For information and tickets visit the Barbury website or call 01672 516125
“Racing is set to lose another slice of its heritage with the famous Manton Derby Gallop included in the latest sale of land at the Wiltshire estate owned by the Sangster family” – that is how the Racing Post introduces its news story on the further sale of Manton Estate land.
The Wantage estate agents Adkin are advertising this sale as “A unique opportunity to acquire Land at Fyfield & Overton Downs, Marlborough, forming part of the Fyfield Down SSSI.” And Strutt and Parker headline the sale as “A truly unique opportunity to acquire a protected landscape steeped in history.”
Adkin and Strutt & Parker are joint selling agents for 577 acres of Overton and Fyfield Downs at a guide price of £2,000,000 or as one agent has it ‘offers in excess of £2,000,000.
The Delling This separate lot – one of seven into which the estate was divided for the sale – includes a three-bedroom house, The Delling. This house has been redundant for about 30 years and is need of ‘substantial renovation.’ This lot also includes 35 acres of woodland.
Fyfield Down is not only steeped in racing heritage: it is a triple-S-I because it was the source for Stonehenge’s sarsen stones – and the ground still boasts many sarsen stones. It is now one of the best places in the area for birdwatchers. [SSSI = Site of Special Scientific Interest.]
The Racing Post report says that contracts have still to be exchanged between the Sangsters and Paul Clarke for his purchase of Manton training establishment now the base for trainers Brian Meehan and George Baker, and much of the estate’s agricultural land.
But the ‘little used’ Derby Gallop, which climbs 150 feet over seven furlongs, was not part of Mr Clarke’s purchase. This mile-long grass gallop was used in the past by several Derby champions to prepare them for the Epsom course’s gradients – including most recently 1992 Derby winner Dr Devious.
Guy Sangster told the Racing Post: “The gallop is in the middle of nowhere, away from the main gallops, and is probably used by Brian [Meehan] twice a year to give the horses a bit of variety. The Derby winners from Manton in the past would have gone out there for a day out because it’s a long way from the main gallops.”
Peter Chapple-Hyam who used to train at Manton explained to the Racing Post that Dr Devious and the two Classic winner Rodrigo de Triano (a horse bred by Robert Sangster) would have used the Derby gallop: “But I didn’t use it just before the Derby because it was a fair trip away.”
Smad Place with owners at each end of the group, Alan King second from right and Wayne HutchinsonYou can watch Racing UK's coverage of the final moments of Smad Place's "rout" on the Hennessy twitter feed.
The eight-year-old grey gelding Smad Place who is trained at Alan King's Barbury Castle yard, won the 59th running of the Hennessy Gold Cup Steeple Chase (Handicap) at Newbury (November 28) over three miles and two furlongs of decidely sticky ground. It was a truly convincing victory.
Owned by Mrs Peter Andrews, trained by Alan King and ridden by his stable jockey Wayne Hutchinson, Smad Place jumped fantastically from the off and won by 12 lengths over Theatre Guide.
Home by a neck in third place was First Lieutenant. The Paul Nicholls trained favourite Saphir Du Rheu and the Hennessy's 2012 winner Bobs Worth were both unplaced.
This victory on the final day of Newbury's three-day bet365 Festival was King's second recent winner in a major handicap chase - after Annacoty's win in Cheltenham's Paddy Power Gold Cup.
Jumping to Hennessy victoryBut the yard has had recent sadness too - with the death following a car crash on the A346 near Ogbourne Downs Golf Club of one of the yard's staff, John Goggin.
“It’s been," Alan King said after the race, "a tough week for the yard. We lost a lad in a car crash and this means a lot. Here’s to John, but it doesn’t bring him back.”
Smad Place was fifth in last year's Hennessy. His victory this year makes him the sixth grey to win the historic race in its fifty-nine years.
Alan King sketched out his future plans for Smad Place's: "He won't be entered for the Grand National, but he will have to have an entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Smad Place has his confidence back - he won't have a lot of racing this season - one run before the Cheltenham Festival - he won't go for the King George."
Alan King Racing staff watch in trepidationTravelling Head Lad Matt Howells holding the rug - Assistant Trainer Oliver Wardle on the rightHe's made it...Joy...and relief
Hutchinson said of the ride: "He never missed a beat." He is now quoted at 16-1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Alan King, Wayne Hutchinson and the Hennessy Gold CupSmad Place had won his first outing of the season at Kempton on November 2 in a two mile and four-and-a-half furlong chase. He won by eight lengths over Fingal Bay and it was noted then that his jumping was good.
Before the race Alan King had said Smad Place was a much stronger candidate - especially after an operation to repair a trapped epiglottis. King told the Racing Post: "We've got a prep into Smad place this time, which is important, both to make sure he's fit enough and to boost his confidence. Wayne and I have been thrilled with his schooling and I'm fairly relaxed groundwise."
In Saturday's Racing Post, Stuart Riley described Smad Place as "...one of those unfortunate and overlooked souls whose reputation fails to match his CV. Third in two World Hurdles and second in an RSA chase, he seems the living proof of Bill Shankly's assertion "second is nowhere", but getting weight from several of his rivals today looks his best chance of a big success."
Smad Place can no more a saddled with that Shankly jibe - and you can be sure Mr Riley is glad he added the 'but...'.
Alan King's other entry in the Hennessy was Ned Stark - brought in at eighth place by Denis O'Regan. [Click on photos to enlarge them.]
Smad Place led out of the saddling box - Alan King on the rightMudfree: in the ring before the race
The French four-star eventing competition at Pau this weekend holds the odd distinction of being the last major competition of 2014, but also the first of the international equestrian federation’s Classics Series for 2014-2015.
And it’s that second part of Pau’s attraction that will disappoint New Zealander Andrew Nicholson – he has had to withdraw his eleven-year-old mare Qwanza as she was “just not quite fit enough” after a year-long lay-off following injury.
Nicholson’s other star eventers – Avebury and Nereo – are resting after another successful season in which he completed two hat-trick wins. With Avebury he won both Barbury and Burghley for the third year running. He won the Classics Series in 2013 with its $40,000 prize.
Lockeridge-based Nicholson told the New Zealand press: “There is not much point in going there if the horse is not 100 per cent. We'll miss this, write the year off and start afresh next year."
Sixteen of Pau’s 40 four-star international entries are British riders – headed by Pippa Funnell with two mounts and William Fox-Pitt with three mounts.
With Nicholson’s scratching, local interest resides with another New Zealander, Jonelle Price from Mildenhall with her nine-year-old mare Faerie Dianimo. This will be Jonelle’s first ride over Pau’s cross country course.
After a great season which included her fourth place at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, Jonelle is now ranked ninth in the world. The other New Zealand entry is Jock Paget who has two mounts in the competition.
In an interview at his Lockeridge home, the star New Zealand eventer Andrew Nicholson has said that his recovery is going well, but he is not certain when - of even if - he will be back in the saddle.
He is obviously in good spirits and has become an expert ‘couch specialist’ watching the rugby and the racing: “As a matter of fact I’m quite a connosseur on how to ride a race!”
Nicholson suffered a severe neck injury in a fall at Gatcombe Park in the summer that could have left him paralysed.
He told eventer and commentator Jonty Evans: "The surgeon's very pleased with the work he's done and the way I've looked after his work." Now he says it is a matter of being sensible and not rushing to get back in the saddle.
The surgeon has told Nicholson there is no reason why he cannot get 'back to normal': "It's healing well and it is strong."
However as the interview went on, it became obvious that Nicholson's return to the saddle was not a foregone conclusion: "It's whether I've got the commitment to want to do it. At the moment I very much want to ride, but I fully understand I can hop on a horse and I may feel frightened." If that is how it turned out, he said, "I wouldn't do it."
"I don't want to ride to make the numbers up. I don't want people to say I was only doing a good job considering he hurt his neck. I want to be doing a good job and winning. You never know till you try."
He has another scan in two weeks and that will show how well his recovery is going.
The interview is available to watch on You Tube - sponsored by Jumper's Horse Line.
CoulstyRichard Hannon Jnr's second season as trainer at the Herridge and Everleigh stables near Marlborough has been another resounding success. So far in the season he has had 174 UK winners, with prize money of nearly £3.5 million - including the 2000 Guineas winner, a winner at Royal Ascot and seven Group 1 winners.
Coming up to the flst racing season's grand finale, the Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot (Saturday, October 17), the Hannon yard's hopes rest with the four year-old bay colt Coulsty. He will run in the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes - now a Group 1 race with prize money of £600,000.
In August Coulsty was beaten by half a length at Newbury under Frankie Dettori on good-to-soft ground over seven furlongs. So perhaps the recent deluges will be good for him. On his September outing at Doncaster he came in fifth of fifteen runners - again over seven furlongs.
Coulsty will be running against a rare entry in a British race from a training yard in Singapore - Emperor Max.
Richard Hannon Snr retired at the end of 2013, but is still part of the Herridge team. His amazing career began in 1970 with nine horses and he went on to be champion trainer five times and bring home over 4,000 winners. The family have been at Herridge for 20 years.
It has in one respect been a strange season for the Hannon family. Their long-term stable jockey (and champion jockey) Richard Hughes (Richard Jnr's brother-in-law) retired and is now training for the flat just over the border in Hampshire.
At the start of the season the yards had about 270 horses. By this stage of the year many have been sent to the sales or are already at the winter quarters. When Marlborough News Online visted Herridge on the wettest of wet Tuesdays, Richard Hannon was at the Newmarket sales.
The yearling on the right was sired by Sir Prancealot - a sprint specialist trained at Herridige and retired to stud in November 2012 after three wins from his four races.They have already taken in a new cardre of yearlings - and some of them were out exercising on the all-weather circuit. In all the stables expect about 100 yearlings to be broken-in and exercised over the winter.
Richard Hannon had two other horses entered for Champions Day: Toormore and Burnt Sugar.
Four year-old Toormore has been one of the stable's stars this season - winning the Qatar Lennox Stakes at Goodwood in July. And travelling to Turkey's Veliefendi Racecourse last month to win the International Topkapi Trophy two-and-a-half lengths clear of Perfect Warrior.
He ran in Longchamp's post-Arc Sunday card gaining 'an honourable bronze'. His lifetime earnings to date are just shy of £900,000. He will now be rested until he goes to race in Hong Kong in December.
Three year-old colt Burnt Sugar was entered for Champions Day Balmoral Handicap. And although BBC Radio 4's Today programme tipped him to win the £112,000 prize in last Saturday's Totescoop6 Challenge Cup at Ascot - he had already been declared a non-runner due to a sore hind foot.
Illuminate - showing her speedFinally, here is a Hannon-trained horse to watch next season: Illuminate. This compact two year-old bay filly started the season with an unbeaten run of victories in May, June and July. Then last month at Newmarket she was beaten by half a length in the Group 1 Chieveley Park Stakes - ironically by the horse named Lumiere.
The Hannon website recorded that neither trainer or jockey, Frankie Dettori, 'felt she lost anything in defeat'. Hannon said: "lluminate travelled well and she has run right up to her form - she beat Besharah a neck at Newmarket and now the superiority was a neck - but she just got leg-weary on the rising ground."
"That will be it for this season, but we still look at Illuminate as a 1000 Guineas filly, and she'll have her prep-race in the Fred Darling at Newbury in April."
Certainly a filly to keep a close eye on next season.