A bold round of jumping yesterday saw Smad Place land one of the big early season prizes as he destroyed the field in the 2015 running of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
The pace-setting grey was sent to the front of the field early in the 3m2f feature race and seemed to respond well to the tactics set out by Jockey Wayne Hutchinson, galloping relentlessly and putting in a flawless round of jumping to run his 14 rivals into submission and scoop the £200,000 prize.
Backers of Smad Place may have been worried at the front running tactics at first, such was the energy-sapping nature of the ground and the quality of the field but any worries soon disappeared when the eight-year-old turned for home to rapturous applause.
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From three fences out it was clear that the 7/1 shot was in complete command, stretching ahead in the latter stages to win by 12 lengths from the gutsy Theatre Guide and Irish raider First Lieutenant in third.
In an intriguing renewal of one of the sport’s biggest races, the early gallop was set by both the winner and the Phillip Hobbs trained Fingal Bay.
The pair were briefly joined by Tom Scudamore on-board The Giant Bolster and tracked by the 9/2 favourite Saphir Du Rheu, but as the pace quickened so too did the test, and with many in the field not able to cope with such a punishing round of jumping the 15 runners began to string out.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Saphir Du Rheu had been well fancied in the run up, especially after the defection of Gold Cup winner Coneygree earlier in the week, but his challenge began to dwindle after a mistake on the back straight.
Fingal Bay became a victim of stamina as did The Giant Bolster and their challenge seemed to disappear three fences from home. The second and third did well to run through tired horses and collect their share of the pot, but in truth it was all about Smad Place, who came home in splendid isolation.
Talking after the race, Hutchinson said: "I'm absolutely thrilled to bits. He was fab and it's all come together this year. The boss was hard on himself coming here without a run last year and he knew what he was doing.
"He loved it out in front at Kempton and I said 'can I do the same please'. He didn't miss a beat and the team is in good order."
Trainer Alan King commented on the ride and hinted that it might not have been the plan, but the win was most deserved when he added: "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 run 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."
The quality of the performance means that Smad Place is now 10-1 (from 33) for the William Hill King George VI Chase on December 26 and bookmakers have also cut the grey into 14-1 (from 33) for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
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