2017 sees the first renewal of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, after Hennessy ended 60 years of sponsorship of what was known as the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup.
The history of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, perfectly illustrated how a race gains reputation and significance as a prestige event.
From the outset, this handicap chase, run just over three and a quarter miles in distance, has produced winners and placed horses with illustrious names and glittering careers.
Inaugurated in 1957, the first winner was no lesser horse than Mandarin, ridden by Gerry Madden. A year later, John Lawrence, best known as the late, great Lord John Oaksey, rode Taxidermist to victory; some 53 years later, Oaksey was the part owner of Carruthers. Mandarin won his second Hennessy Gold Cup in 1961 under Willie Robinson.
Mandarin’s trainer Fulke Walwyn, would then win one of the most famous renewals in 1963, when the huge Gold Cup winner Mill House, seemingly comprehensively defeated the young Irish upstart Arkle. However, out in the country, the mists had concealed Arkle’s serious slip on landing. Arkle would of course comprehensively reverse form with Mill House and naturally the Hennessy featured on his roll of great performances, with back to back wins in 1964 and 1965, before a staggering effort to give lumps of weight to Stalbridge Colonist just failed.
The Seventies in many ways belonged to Red Rum, who was placed in the Hennessy en-route to Aintree glory. Hi old sparring partner Spanish Steps had already got his name on the roll of honour winning the 1969 Hennessy, before his many glorious Aintree efforts.
In 1980, an exciting young Irish chaser called Bright Highway, trained by wheel-chair bound Michael O’Brien and owned by American George Strawbridge, attempted to follow-up his recent Mackeson Gold Cup triumph.
A pulsating race saw Bright Highway and Gerry Newman just out-battle Silent Valley and a young Peter Scudamore, with Welsh National winner Peter Scot in third.
Fulke Walwyn’s Tarbank had been in contention before falling three fences out but the following year, his popular and tough as teak chaser, Diamond Edge, added a Hennessy to his two Whitbread Gold Cup victories – it was his trainer’s seventh winner of the race.
This was a glorious era with Gold Cup winner Bregawn outstaying Captain John, the exciting Brown Chamberlin winning before finishing second in the Gold Cup and then Gold Cup winner Burrough Hill Lad winner under the burden of 12 stone.
A year later Jimmy FitzGerald’s Galway Blaze proved a handicap good thing and then a certain Paul Nicholls won back-to-back renewals aboard Broadheath and Playschool.
In 1988, the irresistible combination of Martin Pipe and Peter Scudamore added their names to the roll of honour as Strands Of Gold won the Hennessy, while a year later it was the turn of David Elsworth with the white faced Ghofar.
Oliver Sherwood’s Arctic Call was successful in 1990, while the Pipe name was back in the winners enclosure again in 1991 thanks to Chatam.
A year later Newbury saw a vintage renewal as Sibton Abbey beat two future Gold Cup winners in the shape of Jodami and The Fellow, in a race that also contained Grand National winner Party Politics.
In 1993 Cogent beater a smaller than usual, but classy field, including Jenny Pitman’s two stable starts Garrison Savannah and Royal Athlete.
1994 confirmed the arrival of an outstanding chaser who would capture the hearts of many, as One Man served notice of his prodigious talent.
Soft ground a year later favoured Couldnt Be Better, who beat two future Grand National winners in Rough Quest and Earth Summit, while in 1996, the Hennessy went to Coombe Hill.
Racing got to enjoy the dulcet tones of the great Sir Peter O’Sullevan one final time in the 1997 Hennessy Gold Cup, as the Voice Of Racing called home the popular grey Suny Bay.
Another outstanding grey would follow-up in 1998, as the hugely progressive Teeton Mill turned the race into a procession, before adding the King George VI Chase a month later.
The final race of the 20th Century went to Mark Pitman’s Ever Blessed, while King’s Road won the race in 2000.
There was a desperately close finish in 2001, with What’s Up Boys beating Behrajan by a neck, with future Grand National winner Bindaree further back.
A huge field of 25 lined up for the 2002 renewal of the Hennessy Gold Cup and it was the Irish trained Be My Royal who finished first past the post. However, a prohibited substance was found in his system and he was unfortunately disqualified, with Gingembre ,a previous runner-up in the race, awarded the Hennessy.
In 2003, Paul Nicholls, twice a winning jockey in the race, claimed Hennessy spoils as a trainer, with the exciting novice chaser Strong Flow, with future Grand National winner Hedgehunter among the finishers.
No horse had pulled off the Mackeson-Hennessy Gold Cup double since Bright Highway in 1980. However, Martin Pipe’s 6 year old Celestial Gold managed to accomplish that feat in 2004.
Nicky Henderson’s RSA Chase winner Trabolgan lumped 11 stone 12 pounds to victory in the 2005 Hennessy Gold Cup and looked destined for stardom, but injury sadly kept him off the course for over three years.
A year later the burgeoning talent of Evan Williams was supremely illustrated as his exciting young chaser State Of Play, given a patient ride by Paul Moloney, landed the Hennessy. This extraordinary horse did not stand much racing but managed to place in three success Grand Nationals, often not running between renewals.
But it was 2007 when a prodigious talent – a second season chaser who had won the RSA Chase, turned the clock back to an era of big, old fashioned chasers who could win Gold Cups and carry the burden of weight in the big handicaps.
Denman was a giant of a horse in character and physicality. Nicknamed the tank by his larger than life part-owner Harry Findlay, the horse defied 11 stone 12 pounds to demolish a high class field and stamp his authority on the entire season. By season’s end the horse had added a Lexus Chase and defeated his dual Gold Cup winning next door neighbour Kauto Star, to take chasing’s Blue Riband.
The following season Denman was under a cloud following health issues and his stable mate Big Bucks took up the Hennessy mantle. He was still in contention before blundering and unseating his rider at the last as Madison Du Berlais took the honours. Of course the Hennessy was therefore instrumental for setting Big Bucks on a separate path to greatness over hurdles.
In 2009 Denman was back. His second Hennessy under 11 stone 12 pounds after all his tribulations, nearly took the roof off the grandstand and had many a hardened race goer close to tears.
Carruthers’ victory for Lord Oaksey proved another emotional affair, while the 2012 winner Bob’s Worth, would also go on to Gold Cup glory, confirming the Hennessy Gold Cup’s enduring appeal for any lover of high class jumps racing.
2013 saw a thrilling finish with the Nicky Henderson trained Triolo D’Alene getting the better of Rocky Creek, to set the Lambourn trainer up for a hat-trick of wins at his local track in 2014. As always there was real strength in depth to the latest renewal, as we said goodbye to a former Cheltenham Gold Cup hero in Imperial Commander, while the next champion also ran in the race: Lord Windermere. Further proof of the Hennessy Gold Cup’s standing.
That was once again reaffirmed in 2014, as the progressive Many Clouds beat Houblon Des Obeaux, en route to victory in the 2015 Crabbie’s Grand National. His success gave trained Oliver Sherwood a second victory in the Hennessy, his first coming 24 years earlier with Arctic Call.
A year later the race was won by another crowd favourite, as the nearly white Smad Place took command of the race from an early stage, galloping his rivals into the ground.
Smad Place returned in 2016, but it was the progressive Native River, who got up to narrowly deny Carole’s Destrier in an exciting finish. The Colin Tizzard gelding would go on to win the Welsh Grand National before finishing third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
2017 sees a new chapter in Newbury’s history, as a competitive field aims to join the illustrious list of past winners of this equivalent race.