Smad Place finished 27l behind Coneygree in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last season and you could forgive connections for abandoning the prospect of another tilt this season. However, an operation on his epiglottis seems to have made him better-than-ever, and with the absence of Coneygree, this eight-year-old has a real live chance of making his presence felt in both the King George over the Christmas period, and then the Gold Cup in March.
The King George is an excellent yardstick for the Gold Cup and with the winner often going off favourite or close-to-favourite at the Festival there may yet be some value in his odds based on the fact that he has not taken on any ‘true’ Gold Cup contenders this season.
His performance in the Hennessy Gold Cup was simply scintillating. He gave weight all round – other than to Saphir Du Rheu, Houblon Des Obeaux and The Giant Bolster – and trounced the field becoming one of the widest-margin winners of the race in history. That performance is up there with the best chasing runs of the season and despite the obvious depth in the ‘staying chaser’ department, he is one whose price has not contracted as much as the other market principles with the news of Coneygree’s injury, and arguably his odds reflect the horse of a season or two ago.
To be balanced, if you dig deeper in to the Hennessy form you could argue that it lacks substance. For example, Saphir Du Rheu had great things expected of him this season as a chaser but was put firmly in his place at Newbury and is now racing back over timber. Theatre Guide finished 12l behind in second, but has not won a notable chase contest in his career. First Lieutenant is not getting any younger so his best days may be behind him and the same could be said about Bob’s Worth and The Giant Bolster, fifth and sixth respectively. Fingal Bay did run well and has since partially franked the form by finishing 1.25l third to the improving Wakanda and Virak in a listed race, but the limits of his potential may be evident in his last two performances. Despite all this, it was hard not to be blown away by Smad Place with the potential of more to come.
Alan King may have opted to go to the BetBright Chase in January, but he has decided Smad Place is well enough in himself to take on the big boys at Kempton having completed a decent piece of work this week, and everything is going to plan according to connections. The right-handed track should suit him and Wayne Hutchinson seems to have an excellent connection with the horse. It is an intriguing entry and with his second in the 2014 RSA Chase to O’Faolains Boy still fresh in the memory, this versatile sort will be much shorter than the 14’s about for the Gold Cup come Saturday evening if he puts in a similar performance in the King George as he did in the Hennessy.
There are question marks over Vautour on soft, and Don Cossack at Cheltenham, so they are worth taking on as an ante-post punter knowing that a win at Kempton should not move the dial materially in the Gold Cup market for either entrant. There is action in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown also to consider, and therefore the Gold Cup market should have greater clarity after this weekend. We want to be on Smad Place before the bookies get a stranglehold on him.
0.5pt Win Smad Place @150/1 Ante-Post Double, King George VI Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup (Coral)