Alan King ticked off another box on his glittering CV after Smad Place finally delivered on the big stage over fences with a scintillating win in Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
While the victory came 12 months later than expected, it still tasted just as sweet for the Barbury Castle handler as he continued his fine start to the season.
King admitted to having made a mistake by not giving the striking grey a prep race before last year’s renewal, in which he finished fifth.
But his decision to send the eight-year-old to Kempton at the start of the month was fully vindicated by one of the most impressive Hennessy victories in recent times.
Within a few strides of the tape falling, the Grade Two-winning hurdler was placed close to the pace, with Fingal Bay behind early leader The Giant Bolster, before Smad Place was taken to the front by Wayne Hutchinson at the ninth fence.
Attacking each fence with great venom, the 7-1 shot had plenty of his rivals in trouble long before the business end and continued to turn the screw at the head of affairs.
Despite having raced with choke out for so long, Smad Place found extra reserves when asked for more by Hutchinson, whose partner measured the four fences in the home straight as fluently as he met the first. Runner-up Theatre Guide stayed on dourly from the rear of the field, but he was in a different county to the winner and was beaten out of sight by 12 lengths.
Top weight and 9-2 favourite Saphir Du Rheu saw his chances compromised when making a mistake seven fences home before plugging on for fifth, while 2012 Hennessy winner Bobs Worth finished sixth.
Following his Hennessy romp, Smad Place received quotes of around 16-1 about winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. King said: “We hoped for a good run but that’s taken my breath away. We thought he had a great chance last year but I was trying to be very clever and we came here without a run.
“This year we went to Kempton first and he was a different horse. I learnt from my mistake last year and Kempton helped get his confidence back.
“He loves to be up there and he deserved to win a big race as he’d been knocking on the door.
“He pricked his ears early on and was so relaxed within himself From three out I thought they are not travelling and I knew it would only take a silly mistake to stop him, but he met the last few on a good stride.”
Smad Place’s victory had added poignancy for King after Barbury Castle stable lad John Goggin died last week following a car crash. King added: “While this win means a lot, it doesn’t bring him back.”