The long march to the Festival continued this week with several eye-catching performances on both sides of the Irish Sea.
Newbury's Hennessy Gold Cup is one of the staying highlights of the season and this year proved no exception with Smad Place running away from his rivals to leave connections dreaming of Gold Cup glory. Alan King's dashing grey has benefitted from more aggressive riding tactics so far this season and Wayne Hutchinson was handy early on the eight-year-old before taking control on the second circuit as those in pursuit began to feel the heat. A series of sharp, accurate leaps up the straight saw the 8.615/2 BSP chance draw further clear, eventually crossing the line 12 lengths ahead of Theatre Guide with First Lieutenant a neck further back in third.
Favourite Saphir Du Rheu and former winner Bobs Worth could manage only a distant fifth and sixth respectively. Ante-post layers were understandably impressed, Smad Place's Gold Cup price swiftly collapsed into 17.016/1 from a dismissive 150.0149/1 and with stamina doubts now seemingly dismissed he looks a serious player for the top prize next March.
Also on the same card Thistlecrack upset the more fancied Cole Harden and Whisper to land the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle by six lengths to leave the Tizzards celebrating once again. Sent off with a BSP of 5.19 Tom Scudamore's mount responded well, despite not having had a previous run this season, when asked to overhaul leader Deputy Dan and was going further away from them as he passed the post to receive World Hurdle quotes of 10.09/1 from 25.024/1 to dispute ante-post favouritism with reigning champion Cole Harden. After only one run this season there is likely to be plenty more improvement to come and he will surely have a say in things come spring-time before a possible switch to fences
Newcastle's Fighting Fifth hurdle card was the other main UK event over the weekend and the feature race went to Ireland as Henry De Bromhead's Identity Thief overcome a mistake at the last flight to wear down Top Notch at BSP odds of 7.613/2. The highly-touted pair of market leaders, Irving and Wicklow Brave, failed to make the frame as the winner entered the Champion Hurdle reckoning at 30.029/1 from 300.0299/1.
Fairyhouse staged the best of the Irish action and as usual Willie Mullins was to the fore with the trainer's Arctic Fire reasserting his Champion Hurdle credentials in the Grade 1 Hatton's Grace Hurdle. It may not have been the toughest of tests but the six-year-old was a tempting price of 2.01/1 BSP and did it in some style, travelling all over the opposition before quickening away when asked to by Ruby Walsh as the crowd roared their approval. Consequently he is back in to 12.011/1 from 20.019/1 for the Champion Hurdle and now turns his attention to Leopardstown's Christmas meeting.
Other notable performances included Gigginstown's No More Heroes who is the new favourite, 10.09/1 in to 6.05/1, for the RSA after coming out on top in a competitive renewal of the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase. In the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, Long Dog, 20.019/1 in to 15.014/1 for the Neptune, gamely held off the challenge of stable mate Bachasson in a thrilling finish to the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.
Finally, early in the week Vaniteux produced an awesome display of jumping at Kempton and finds himself behind only Douvan in the Arkle betting, now trading at 10.0 from 20.0.