Nothing beats a grey on the wing. Even though he is only 8 years old Smad Place is almost white already and he lit up the Newbury gloom as he jumped from fence to fence to take this Hennessy Gold Cup apart.
When the ground gets heavy front running usually takes its toll but Wayne Hutchinson was already got a clear idea of what he was going to do on a horse he also rode for Smad Place’s successful debut over British hurdles at this same meeting back in 2010. “I wanted to let him roll,” said Wayne, “I had said to the guvnor (trainer Alan King) that I was going to be positive but I don’t think he realized quite how bold I was going to be.”
Fearlessness was his friend. For although first The Giant Bolster and then Fingal Bay disputed the lead up front, Smad Place had taken over before the 15 runner field had crossed half of the 21 fences and from then on it was a an exhibition of spring heeled jumping. But such aggression also serves it up to the opponents and those who loomed close to challenge would find that Smad Place was going to make it hurt.
Turning into the straight The Giant Bolster was beginning to weaken, Fingal Bay was sticking implacably on, First Lieutenant was showing signs of his old glory days but it was the darker grey favourite Saphir du Rheu who was moving most ominously on the outside. At just 6 years old he was the young contender who looked as if he would have the legs of all of them. But he was tackling Smad Place on whom 34 year old Wayne Hutchinson was having the sort of ride he has dreamt about since he had his first winner a full 14 seasons ago.
Into that third last they went and soared heart and body far over. It was as if the others had taken a punch from the sheer elan of it. On to the second last and they did it again. In his career Smad Place has become a really good staying hurdler and an even better chaser. A minor breathing operation in the summer has made him mightier still this winter but his jockey has been through much more to get this far. Both knees have needed reconstruction and last year he was out for 4 months with hip damage. He has won a Welsh and Scottish Grand Nationals and had winners at Cheltenham and Aintree. But nothing like this. And he wasn’t going to let it go.
Racing’s new grey hero never lessened the pressure all the way to the line by which time he had twelve long lengths to spare over the late finishing Theatre Guide and then First Lieutenant, Fingal Bay, a weary Saphir du Rheu and the 2012 winner Bob’s Worth who could only struggle in from the turn. “It was such a thrill,” said Swindon born Hutchinson who joined Alan King in Barbury Castle back in 2001 and served long and loyal years as understudy to Robert Thornton. “This is what you do it all for,” he said, “I remember coming here and seeing the Hennessy when I was 15 and thinking one day?”
For King himself there was poignancy to this first triumph in the Hennessy. For one of his staff John Goggins, died last week after a motor accident and a racing stable is a close-knit thing. “It’s been a tough week for the yard,” said Alan trying hard to compose himself, “this means a lot but it doesn’t bring John back.”
Barbury Castle is set high on the downs north of Marlborough and all there will now have to settle for future dreams with the white horse that so seared himself into the yesterday’s memory. “We hoped for a good run but that took my breath away, “ continued Alan King. “Full credit to Wayne – I´m not sure those were the tactics we discussed but it was a ballsy ride! We learnt from last year (when Smad Place was 5th in the Hennessy on his first run of the season) and by giving Smad Place a prep he´s a different horse. He deserved a big one and we learnt from Kempton that he likes being up there. We won’t go for the King George and he will probably have just have one more race before the Gold Cup.”
The Hennessy Gold Cup was first held in 1957 and is thus the oldest continuing major sponsorship in sport. Its first 41 runnings all had the accompaniment of the incomparable tones of the late Peter O’Sullevan who was honoured at Newbury by both the Press Room and yesterday’s second race being renamed in his honour. O’Sullevan’s professionalism meant we never knew where his own money was, not even in 1985 when he was behind a major coup on Hennessy winner Galway Blaze. How appropriate that the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Chase should see quite a touch as Aloomomo was backed in from 7-1. Did one of the commissions come from above?
How Peter would have loved to have called Smad Place yesterday .