The Saturday Focus – Ladbrokes Trophy

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

The Ladbrokes Trophy (nee Hennessy Gold Cup) is a race that I have so many great memories of. One of my favourite ever racehorses Smad Place won this in 2015 with a scintillating victory. Native River took top honours in 2016, going clear from four out. Last year’s race was the last race I got to watch with my Grandad, who laughed at me as I screamed The Conditional home to finish second at 20/1. The Ladbrokes Trophy is a race that promises a lot – and then delivers!

The Ladbrokes Trophy is a three mile two contest over twenty one fences – including four open ditches and the famous water jump in the shadow of the stands down the straight, now standing empty in these twisted Covid times. The ground will be good and eighteen horses go to post.

This race was inaugurated in 1957 and it was won by Mandarin, who was an appropriate winner as he was owned by Peggy Hennessy, a member of the family who founded Hennessy, the company who sponsored the race until 2016. Mandarin was ridden by Willie Robinson, who is the winning-most jockey in the race with additional wins on Mill House in 1963 and Mn Of The West in 1968. In this year’s renewal, if Tom Scudamore wins on Cloth Cap, he will equal the tally of Robinson after successes on Maddison Du Berlais in 2008 and Sizing Tennessee in 2018.   

Admittedly, my excitement and anticipation for this race has dimmed slightly for this after the awful news that both RSA winner Topofthegame and last year’s winner De Rasher Counter have both been ruled out for the rest of the season due to injuries. I wish them both a speedy recovery! However, the race has attracted a brilliant field of horses, creating a really competitive race.

Looking at some of the trends in this race, one of the interesting ones is age. The most common age of a winner is seven or eight. Fourteen of the winners since 1980 were seven and nine were eight. The seven-year-old runners are as follows: Vinndication, Aye Right, Mister Malarky, Two For Gold, Danny Whizzbang, The Hollow Ginge, Potterman and Ardlethen. The eight year olds are Secret Investor, Kildisart, The Conditional and Cloth Cap. There is a really close split between whether winners carrying 11st or higher fair against those carrying less. Since 1980, horses carrying 11st or more have won nineteen times and those carrying less won twenty-one renewals. The only rules out five of the aforementioned horses. Looking a bit more recently, eight of the last seventeen renewals have been won by horses coming from the yards of Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson or Colin Tizzard. When applying that criteria to the remaining seven and eight year olds, it leaves just one horse – Paul Nicholls’ Danny Whizzbang.

Danny Whizzbang is one off two runners for Nicholls and, on jockey bookings, is the second string. He came from the brilliant Colin Bowe point-to-point establishment in Ireland, for whom he won a PTP by two and a half lengths. He ran out a tough victory on his first start for his new yard at Hereford and he followed that up with a five length victory in a novice hurdle at Exeter. Last season, he began his chasing career in the John Francome Novices Chase (Grade Two), which was excellent. Next time, he finished third to Slate House and Black Op at Kempton and was then twenty-three lengths behind Copperhead and Two For Gold in a grade to novices chase at Sandown on bottomless ground. His return to action was in the Badger Beers Chase and he finished seventh, beaten thirty-one lengths. Alarmingly, he bled from his nose that day which is worrying and will have contributed to the below par performance.

Secret Investor (JTW Equine Images)

His stablemate Secret Investor is a really interesting runner in the race. He started out last season over at Down Royal for the Daily Mirror Chase, where he came second before finishing a disappointing tenth in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup. In February, he followed in a previous winner of this, Native River, in the Denman (a two times winner of this race) Chase here at Newbury. After that, he had a wind-op and returned at Chepstow in early October to win the race named after Native River, beating Potterman. He’s yet to tackle a trip as far as this but he is a three mile point-to-point winner and will love the good ground.

Potterman subsequently finished second in the Badger Beers, which Danny Whizzbang came seventh in. That was an extremely gutsy, well-fought second place. In 2019, this horse did the majority of his racing between May and September because he obviously relishes good ground. He followed in Vinndiction and Regal Encore in the Sodexo Gold Cup, coming fifth, before having a break and returning in July. He is on an unchanged mark after the Wincanton run and can’t be ignored from the yard that sent out Smad Place to win in 2015.

Potterman (JTW Equine Images)

One of the ‘talking horses’ is Aye Right because of the lovely story connecting him to the north and how his trainer has only eight horses in her yard. He has won seven of his nineteen races and had his first chase start in a Doncaster grade two last December. He unseated his jockey in a crazy incident. (See tweet below and marvel at how Joe Colliver managed to stay on Sam Spinner!) He won a two-runner event next time before really out-running his 100/1 odds to be fifth in the RSA. He has ran twice this season, finishing to subsequent Old Roan winner Nuts Well and then coming third to Cyrname and Vinndication in the Charlie Hall Chase with La Bague Au Roi fifth and Ballyoptic pulled up. He’s an exciting second season novice on the up.

The Charlie Hall Chase was a very good race and Vinndication ran extremely well, especially after nearly going straight through the first. I’m a big fan of this horse but his jumping at the recent ‘Gallops Morning’ for this meeting was awful to be rather blunt. He ran right-handed for his first seven starts, six of which he won and then the seventh was in the Scilly Isle finishing third. He jumped severely right in the schooling session and at Wetherby he was jumping slowly. You just can’t do that in such a competitive handicap off 11st11. However, when he is on song, his jumping can be amazing and he can be very dominant, like he was in the Sodexo Gold Cup when he beat Regal Encore and Potterman. On his only other start of last campaign, he was a brilliant fourth in the Ultima, which The Conditional won, Kildisart came second in and Mister Malarky pulled up in. I don’t think the trip will be a problem after he stayed on in the Charlie Hall and, with cheekpieces on, hopefully his jumping will be a little bit sharper.

The Ultima could be a good line into this race with The Conditional, Kildisart and Mister Malarky all running in it along with Vinndication. I was there to watch the Ultima and, whilst my attention was on Mulcahys Hill, it didn’t pass me by that The Conditional stayed on brilliantly to win. He was quite a surprising winner of a good handicap chase at Cheltenham’s opening meeting of the season last year, after he came over from Martin Hassett’s yard. Next time, he ran in this race and a crashing jump at the last didn’t help his cause and he galloped on very well to only be beaten one and a half lengths, which was an agonising defeat. He didn’t get the trip on the ground at Warwick in the Classic Chase (I was there) before going to the Ultima. He has only gone up 15lbs since joining David Bridgewater and he has not yet reached his ceiling.

Kildisart (JTW Equine Images)

Kildisart carried 11st3 and The Conditional had 10st6 on his back. This time the former has 11st5 and the latter has 10st11. I think Kildisart has had an ideal prep for this, over hurdles in the West Yorkshire Hurdle when he came third, which should put him spot on. In April 2019, this horse won the Betway Handicap Chase (Grade Three) at the Aintree Grand National by five lengths with Mister Malarky second. He’s 7lbs higher than then; he should love the ground and I think he has a good chance. His form interlocks with Mister Malarky’s on a few occasions after that run at Aintree. In February 2020, Mister Malarky won a grade three at Kempton, with Kildisart three lengths behind. In the Ultima, he was pulled up. He went to Ascot on seasonal reappearance and just didn’t feature at all. Regal Encore won that race. He has been given blinkers to try and revitalise him.

Regal Encore is a grand old horse. No horse over the age of ten has won this so, at the age of twelve, the odds are somewhat against him – but he doesn’t know that. He won a listed handicap chase at Ascot in December and returned to that course with a third in a very good race, in behind Ballyoptic. After wind surgery this summer, he reappeared at Ascot and ran an amazing race to win by over a length. His trainer Anthony Honeyball has done a great job with him and it would be great to see him run well in this.

Ballyoptic (JTW Equine Images)

Ballyoptic had a great season last year. He started out in the Native River Handicap Chase and then he won the Charlie Hall. After two less good runs, he won the listed Swinley Chase by over eight lengths. He was going to take the same route through the Chepstow but the ground was unsuitable. He went to the Charlie Hall Chase and pulled up, out-paced for a long way. He has top weight which won’t make things easy for him. La Bague Au Roi came a very gallant fifth in the Charlie Hall. It was a good return to graded form. She was sensational in the 2018/19 season with a grade two win at Newbury, grade one win at Kempton and grade one win at Leopardstown. She didn’t look like herself last season and, on this good ground, I don’t think we can discount her.

Two For Gold (JTW Equine Images)

Two For Gold is an interesting runner. He has only raced twelve times and won seven of them. He ran his chase debut in November, winning well, and again at Kelso. I was there when he won at Warwick and he was so game! Next time, he went to Ascot on bottomless ground, finishing second, sandwiched between Copperhead and Danny Whizzbang. He went to Wetherby in a listed chase on reappearance, coming second after making the running. He could be used to tailor this race to suit his stablemate Vinndication but he has solid claims on his own. I’ve mentioned Danny Whizzbang already so let’s talk about Copperhead. This horse looks like a proper chaser. Last season, he won his second chase start in a handicap chase at Wincanton by four lengths and then in the Mandarin Handicap Chase over this trip too. He wasn’t campaigned like a novice chaser until he ran in the Reynoldstown in February, which he won by seventeen lengths. His season ended with a fall in the RSA and his reappearance was too bad to be true. Over hurdles, it looked like he hated it an he was pulled up.

Black Op and Ardlethen both went to Carlsile for their reappearance with seven and a half lengths splitting them, when down the field, off equal weights. Black Op was a sensational hurdler, coming second to Samcro in the Ballymore and he is a grade one winner, a title he earned by winning the Mersey Novices Hurdle at the Aintree Grand National meeting. He ran in one chase in the following December, following in Topofthegame and Defi Du Seuil. They tried him in a grade two but he followed in those horses again. They reverted back to hurdles with him but without success. He returned to fences with a win at Stratford and he was beaten by good horses in two more starts. He was behind Imperial Aura, who has gone on to win a grade two, at Carlisle and I get the impression Black Op is a horse with a lot of talent but rarely shows it. He faces a new trip in this. Ardlethen doesn’t have a glossy resume to his name but he is a three times winner from eleven starts. His last win was over three miles on chasing debut in October 2019 he has a little bit to find behind Danny Whizzbang and Two For Gold but he only carries 10st2.

Also at the bottom of the handicap is Cloth Cap, who gets cheekpieces for the first time. He won two chases in November 2018 and then he came third over four miles in the Scottish National so he’ll absolutely stay. He is a very consistent horse and, last time, he was a very good third over three miles one in a competitive handicap around Cheltenham and, whilst the margin he was beaten by was large, he looked ready to win again. So did Beware The Bear when he ran all over Santini in a racecourse gallop at Newbury. In 2019, this horse won the Ultima and it is slightly interesting that Nico De Boinville rides for Ben Pauling instead of his boss. We haven’t seen him for a long time. The Hollow Ginge is going to be the outsider and he has a bit to find with these horses. It is a new task for him.

After all that, I haven’t really come to a rock-solid conclusion. I’m going to go with KILDISART. This gelding had an ideal preparation for the race with his run in the West Yorkshire Hurdle and he should be suited to this, especially as he will love the ground. Danny Whizzbang is my ‘trends’ horse but he isn’t the most reliable and the bleeding last time worries me. I am increasingly interested in Cloth Cap for Trevor Hemmings and I expect The Conditional to run well again. It is just such a competitive race!!!

Your Thoughts

I posed the question of who is going to win the Ladbrokes Trophy to my followers and the vast expanse of horses mentioned really reflects the nature of the race!

As always, get involved with the conversation on my Twitter page! 🙂

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