WATCHING the pre-parade for the Hennessy Gold Cup, as the now near white Smad Place walked by, the thought occured that, as eyecathing as he looked, who would want the job of cleaning him down after this race, three mile plus on very soft ground.

When he returned however, he was as white as before as there was barely a mark on him having been in the front rank throughout. Nothing could land a blow on him, let alone kick up sods in his face.

It was a hugely impressive performance, jumping boldly in tiring ground and opening up a wide margin from before the last fence.

This was a hugely deserved win for Alan King’s eight-year-old who has been campaigned at the top level all his racing career. Indeed his career has moved in a full circle to the top - he had made his British debut as a three-year-old at this meeting five years ago when also ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. He beat an odds-on Paul Nicholls-trained favourite ridden by A.P. McCoy that day. Things have moved on but Smad Place got a much deserved reward here after finishing third in two World Hurdles, and second in an RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

On reflection, what a crop of novice chasers we had two years ago in that RSA - Don Cossack fell and brought down Many Clouds, Paddy Power winner Annacotty was eighth, Bet365 Gold Cup winner Just A Par was seventh, Irish Hennessy Gold Cup winner Carlingford Lough was fifth.

Smad Place was well fancied for the Hennessy last year but lack of a prep race told (the same was true of Djakadam) and Alan King felt it affected the rest of his season.

He started at 25/1 when eighth behind Coneygree in last year’s Gold Cup and on this evidence he might be each-way value this season at 14/1 as Coneygree would have had to been some horse to beat him on Saturday.

It was said that Saphir Du Rheu would have to be a Gold Cup horse to win this off top weight and on this evidence he is not. He made one significant error at a vital stage but you cannot afford that at his level and especially not in graded company.

A big field, top handicap like this will always be run at a decent gallop and will put any suspect jumping to the test, even on soft ground and Saphir Du Rheu had jumping issues last year.

He is still inexperienced with only three completed chases on his record, and in two of them he was odds-on. The Mildmay at Aintree was a Grade 1, but that was not the strongest contest. He has a bit to do to live up to his reputation over fences. It would not be a surprise if another Big Bucks-style return to stayers hurdling might be on the cards. It's hard to see him taking on the top staying chasers this season.

Theatre Guide finished in the money in a Hennessy for the second time, he stayed on late through beaten horses without ever looking like winning, and maintained the terrific form of Tizzard horses.

First Lieutenant in third ran his best race in some time, on ground that once would have been considered too soft for him. He would look an ideal type of horse for the Grand National but didn’t appear to like Aintree last year.

Bobs Worth finished sixth but never looked like taking a hand in the finish and his jumping was not slick enough.

The Giant Bolster showed far more zest and was in contention for a long way. He could still turn up at a big price each-way in some of the top chases, perhaps Cheltenham’s January Gold Cup trial.

If you took as short as 7/1 another dodgy jumper in If In Doubt, you knew your faith early as he was his usual clumsy self and raced in rear from early on, nearly losing Barry Geraghty when screwing at the water. He will not be competitive in top handicaps unless he jumps better.


A tremendous few weeks for the Colin Tizzard establishment continued when a new contender for the World Hurdle appeared in the shape of last year’s Aintree Grade 1 winner Thistlecrack. That win had come as a surprise at 25/1 but he looks progressive here, weary but staying on the tiring ground to beat the outsider Deputy Dan.

A fine, big son of Kayf Tara, also the sire of Identity Thief, who is fast becoming the latest NH sire son of Sadler’s Wells to dominate, he looks sure to improve.

It would be hasty to dismiss last year’s Stayers champion Cole Harden. On his first run of the season on tiring ground, he raced with his usual zest but weakened two out. However, he stayed on again and better ground will suit him.

His card is marked though and it will be harder to win from the front this year when others aware of these tactics. Whisper was sent off favourite and was very disappointing given that he has heavy ground form. He has two ways of running and might not be the strongest stayer despite two Aintree win


Gigginstown House have never left any doubts that they buy horses that are potential chasers but do they entertain a Champion Hurdle contender unaware?

The Henry de Bromhead-trained Identity Thief entered the Champion Hurdle picture with a battling defeat of Top Notch in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth at Newcastle last Saturday where Paul Nicholls joint favourite Irving jumped poorly and was well beaten.

The Champion Hurdle picture was slightly clouded after the surprise defeat in the Morgiana at Punchestown of the previously unbeaten title holder Faugheen. Despite his dominance, it was not a strong hurdling scene last season. The New One was the leading British contender and he could only finish fifth in the Champion Hurdle behind the Mullins trio and Jezki. The feeling at the time was that the form of the Morgiana may be suspect and it is beginning to look as much.

Ruby Walsh travelled over to Newcastle to partner the Punchestown third Wicklow Brave, and he travelled well but found nothing when asked between the last two. The ground was soft but he has form on all types and has won on heavy. However, Mullins had appeared to consider the Morgiana as an afterthought as he was fit and well after his flat campaign. He’s done Cheltenham, Royal Ascot, York, the Irish St Leger and Champions Day on the flat. He was perhaps entitled to cry enough for the time being.

Many felt last year’s Triumph was a strong renewal and had produced a live Champion Hurdle contender in Peace And Co. But if the first three there were all from the same stable, can that really indicate strength in depth. Peace And Co is unbeaten but did not always look the most enthusiastic in his efforts. Hargam reappeared when only fourth behind Devilment at Cheltenham and Top Notch now has two defeats this season and does not look top class. He was unable to take advantage of Identity Thief’s last flight blunder. Another four-year-old Beltor was also well beaten here.

Unless Peace And Co has stepped forward, the four-year-olds, who traditionally find it hard going into all aged company, may not be good enough to trouble a back to form Faugheen.


Arctic Fire was the best horse in the Hattons Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse, indeed the only Grade 1 horse in the line up and his Champion Hurdle second last year put him well above the likes of Alpha Des Obeaux and Gwencily Berbas. He might well have beaten Jezki at Aintree but for crashing out at the last.

Despite Willie Mullins reservations over the ground, he never looked in trouble and when Ruby Walsh asked him to quicken into the race coming to the second last, he closed easily and won this without too much fuss.

The 2016 Champion Hurdle again does not appear to have much strength in depth with Mullins also housing Morgiana winner Nichols Canyon.

It’s asking a lot to see My Tent Our Yours to come back to that standard after missing a year. Last year’s juveniles have still to make an impression. Thankfully there is no two and a half mile Grade 1 hurdle at the Festival which will hopefully allow Wicklow Bloodstock to send their Grade 1 performer for the Champion again.

Arctic Fire may well be improving and looks sure to be involved. He is generally available at the same odds as Peace And Co and a better option as that horse has yet to prove he can step up to Champion standard.


At this early stage, the betting for many of the Grade 1s at the Cheltenham Festival are dominated by one or two horses. The RSA Chase has two horses at the top of the market, both of who have been impressive on their transition to the bigger obstacles.

Gordon Elliott’s Gigginstown House owned No More Heroes has looked a ready-made recruit to chasing and cannot have been more impressive on his two runs, winning the Drinmore in style from the high class staying hurdler Monksland.

Over hurdles, he was possibly unlucky not to already have a victory at Cheltenham on his CV. Bryan Cooper found his path up the inside cut off approaching the last in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett last year and he had to switch and went down by a length and a half to Martello Tower and Milsean.

His Navan defeat of Shaneshill this time last year looks good with the passing of time and a bit like Don Cossack, you could say he under achieved slightly over hurdles but was just biding time for the bigger obstacles.

His pedigree is that of a three mile chaser (Presenting-What A Breeze), with Celestial Gold and Fiveforthree close up and tracing back to famous chasers of the 1970s in L’Escargot, The Pilgarlic and What A Buck. Everything about him suggests that chasing will be his domain.

At the moment, Cheltenham novice winner More Of That has the edge in class after winning a top class edition of the World Hurdle two seasons ago but he will have to be on top of his game keep tabs on the Elliott horse.

Free Expression was well supported but lacked an extra gear in the closing stages. He finished 11 lengths behind the winner having been behind Outlander on his debut.

Monksland ran very well on second run in seven days. Further will suit him, but a bit like Apace Stronghold last year, he may have to avoid the Mullins stars to add to his haul, albeit he is high class recruit to chasing.


The Mullins duo Long Dog and Bachasson dominated the finish of the novice Grade 1, the Royal Bond.

Ruby Walsh went for the more scopey Long Dog in the conditions and he was proved right though Bachasson chased him all the way. Mullins seemed as pleased with the effort of the second as the winner. Both horses have been on the go all summer which, looking ahead, may be a slight negative, it’s a long road to Cheltenham and who knows what is yet to be released in the Ricci colours.

Current favourite Min (9/1) has yet to appear, while Buveur D'Air impressed for Nicky Henderson at Newbury last week. Long Dog and Bachasson are around 12/1 and that looks fair at this stage.

The Mullins/Elliott domination was halted briefly in the opening Grade 3 juvenile hurdle when Colin Kidd’s shrewd purchase Rashaan (5/1) mainlined his unbeaten record and put up his most impressive performance in beating the odds-on Elliott-trained favourite Missy Tata.

Produced before the last by Mikey Fogarty, he completed a good round of hurdling to race away for a 13 length win and lay claims to being the best four-year-old seen this season.

He is a half-brother to Rayeni who finished second to Mastercraftsman in an Irish 2000 Guineas for John Oxx. His owners intend to hold on to this 'one who got away' and you hope they will be rewarded for their endeavours.