Why the Ladbrokes Trophy is such a good Gold Cup pointer

The great Denman won the Hennessy Gold Cup on two occasions in 2007 and 2009.
The great Denman won the Hennessy Gold Cup on two occasions in 2007 and 2009.

Nick Seddon delves into the history books to look at why Saturday’s Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury is celebrated as one of the best pointers around for the staying chasing division…

Forever known to the vast majority of us as the Hennessy Gold Cup, Saturday’s Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury is seen as a traditional breeding ground for success in the staying chasing division, and the valuable handicap has an illustrious history of producing some top-class winners since its inception in 1957. 

It didn’t take long for the race to produce a high-class winner, and Mandarin became the first horse to win the Hennessy and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season in 1961/62 (though Kerstin had completed the same feat in reverse order two years before). The early sixties proved to be a golden era for Jumps racing, and Mandarin was matched in quick succession by Mill House (1963/64) and the great Arkle (1964/65 and 1965/66). 

Racing in both Grade 1 events and under huge weights in handicaps was much more common back then, and although Arkle’s feat of carrying a tear-jerking 12-07 to victory in back-to-back years remains unrivalled, the 1984 Gold Cup winner Burrough Hill Lad carried 12-00 to victory later that year under the great John Francome. 

Bregawn completed the Hennessy-Gold Cup double two seasons before that, and it was in the eighties that Paul Nicholls’ name twice appears in the rather unfamiliar jockey column, too, riding Broadheath (1986) and Playschool (1987) to victory in successive years - though it was a good while until the race produced another Gold Cup hero. 

Indeed, it’s rather fitting that Nicholls was responsible for the next horse to complete the double, with the great Denman in 2007-08 (he won the Hennessy again in 2009), and he did so with two herculean weight-carrying performances under 11-12 that were reminiscent of the great Arkle himself. 

The staying chasing division has enjoyed a golden period since, and two Hennessy winners have gone on to win the Gold Cup since 2010 - Bobs Worth (2012-13) and Native River (won the 2018 Gold Cup after winning the 2016 Hennessy) - while the much loved Many Clouds became the first horse to win both the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Grand National in 2014-15. 

Several more smart performers have won the race this century, too, including Trabolgan (2005), Madison du Berlais (2008) and Smad Place (2015), and it will be interesting to see whether that trend can continue in this year’s race. 

No horse other than Trabolgan and Denman (who both carried 11-12) has carried more than 11-06 to victory this century, meaning that each of Ballyoptic, Vinndication, Beware The Bear and Secret Investor face tough tasks on Saturday, while The Conditional (second) and Mister Malarky (sixth) will be looking to build on what they showed here 12 months ago. 

Weight can be key, and it will be interesting to see how Cloth Cap fares in the famous Trevor Hemmings silks. He sneaks into the race off a mark of 136, one that's 2 lb lower than when finishing third behind Frodon at Cheltenham in October. He's lightly-raced for an eight-year-old, but he's clearly talented, and it's difficult not to think that his current mark underestimates him - particularly when you remember his effort to finish third in the 2019 Scottish Grand National.

It's no secret that all horses who carry those green and yellow colours ultimately have Aintree on their agendas, and Cloth Cap would likely need to win a race like this to guarantee his place on Merseyside next April.  

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