By Simon Jackson.
Smad Place is on target for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup after an impressive victory in the BetBright Trial Chase on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham on Saturday.
The Alan King-trained grey led all the way in the £100,000 Grade 2 race for substitute jockey Richard Johnson after the nine-year-old’s regular rider Wayne Hutchinson was forced to miss the race due to injury.
Smad Place’s success was the first leg of a graded race treble at Cheltenham for King who also saddled Annacotty to win the £60,000 Grade 3 freebets.com Trophy Handicap Chase and Yanworth, a seven length winner of the £30,000 Grade Two Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
The manner of Smad Place’s 12 length victory over 2015 Crabbie’s Grand National winner Many Clouds delighted the trainer who on Sunday indicated Smad Place is likely to contest the Gold Cup in preference to the Ryanair Chase.
“It was very touching to be stood here when the horse was led into the winner’s enclosure. Smad Place is obviously very special to me and to a lot of people given the reception the Cheltenham crowd gave him,” King said immediately after Smad Place’s victory.
“You know what it is with a grey horse. Smad Place got into a very good rhythm, jumped great and he handled this ground. Although he goes in good ground, he has won on very testing ground before and really pings off it which is difficult to do – not many horses can.
“He keeps up a relentless gallop. I was blown away when he won the Hennessy and I am slightly blown away again today.
“This is the first time that Smad Place has won at Cheltenham – people have said it is not his track but he has run some marvellous races here and it is nice to get a win into him around here.
“I am going to enjoy today and then think about whether he is good enough for the Gold Cup. It could be an exceptional Gold Cup this year. He is in that race and the Ryanair Chase and I am not going to commit to which one he will run in at The Festival yet,” he said of his charge who is now best-priced at 12-1 for the Gold Cup.
“Peter Andrews [husband of the owner] did not want to run today – he rang me at 8am to say to take him out and I went absolutely ballistic and said the horse had already left for Cheltenham and we would discuss it later. Smad Place had not left but he was in very good form coming into today’s race.”
Johnson added: “I was very fortunate to pick up the ride this morning after poor Wayne Hutchinson had a nasty fall yesterday.
“Smad Place jumped and travelled very well today, handling the conditions. He is uncomplicated and I think that is the way to ride him [from the front].”
Read ‘Horse Talk with Simon Jackson’ at London24 for the latest horse racing news.