Memory Lane: Hennessy Gold Cup

The Hennessy Gold Cup has a special place in national hunt hearts. It’s been won by the equine elite including Mill House, Arkle, Burrough Hill Lad and Denman, and remains one of the jewels in the crown of the jumps season. It has also been unspoilt by having different names and has the longest commercial sponsorship of any horse race in Britain. The race is simply known as the “Hennessy” and nothing else would do, would it? So here is a look back at some of the remarkable performances that have made the race one of the highlights of the national hunt season…

It’s a little known fact that the first three runnings of the Hennessy were at Cheltenham and it was apt that the great Mandarin was the first-ever winner in 1957 – one of seven Hennessy winners for the legendary Fulke Walwyn.

But the following year saw a remarkable finish. The late, great Lord Oaksey (aka John Lawrence back then) produced a masterclass of a finish to get Taxidermist up on the line. Fifth after jumping the last he flew to win by a nose. Relive that great finish here. Taxidermist was also trained by Walwyn who had converted the horse from a selling plater into a Hennessy winner. Genius!

The great Mill House won the Hennessy in 1963 before his chasing crown was usurped by the mighty Arkle. The Irish beast won the Hennessy twice in 1964 and 1965. In the latter race he started at 1/8 and gave 32lbs to the opposition. The handicapper was powerless to stop him.

But in 1966 Arkle was thwarted as he went for a Hennessy hat-trick by the grey Stalbridge Colonist ridden by Stan Mellor, who was receiving 35lb. Finally, the handicapper had caught up with the great one. If you watch this footage of the race look at the crowds at the last fence and on the run-in. Health and safety pen-pushers would go mental if that happened today!

In 1973 there was another memorable finish when Aintree legend Red Rum came within a whisker of winning the Hennessy. He lost out in a ding-dong duel with Red Candle. Watch it here

In 1981, 24 years after Mandarin’s victory, top weight Diamond Edge gave Walwyn his seventh Hennessy. It was a mighty performance as he gave 18lb to Michael Dickinson’s Political Pop. The race is here

In 1983 and 1984 the race was dominated by one man: John Francome. Fred Winter’s Brown Chamberlin was a brilliant horse and produced a dominant dispay to beat Gaye Chance. It was also a first Hennessy for Winter.

But in 1984 Jenny Pitman’s Burrough Hill Lad, lumbering top weight, provided one of the greatest Hennessy memories. Francome was glued to the inside rail and scraped paint all the way round. The way he sneaked into the race was a joy to watch.

The easiest winner I can remember was Galway Blaze in 1985. He turned out to be a handicap snip with just 10 stone. Trainer Jimmy Fitzgerald was a real force at the time and this was a steering job for Mark Dwyer. Note some great names among the also-rans: Door Latch, Tom’s Little Al, Run and Skip, By The Way and future Gold Cup winner Charter Party, who fell four out when going well.

In 1986 a certain P Nicholls grabbed the first of his two Hennessy victories on David Barons’ Broadheath. He did it again on Playschool the following year.

Into the 90s and the race continued to thrill. Adrian Maguire produced an inspired ride in 1992 to get outsider Sibton Abbey home to beat Jodami. Jodami went on to win the 1993 Gold Cup. The likes of Chatam, Party Politics, Twin Oaks, The Fellow and Gambling Royal were down the field.

Timmy Murphy rode a Francome-esque race in 2004 to win on Celestial Gold, who was completing the rare Paddy Power and Hennessy double.

Denman won the race in 2007 and then retained the crown in 2009, giving lumps of weight to stablemate What A Friend. There wasn’t a dry eye at Newbury racecourse that day.

So what about this year? This column examines some of the ante-post value in the race but Bobs Worth looks to have the perfect profile. Hold On Julio is progressive and two former winners, Carruthers and Diamond Harry, could be each-way value at big prices.

Got a Hennessy memory? All comments below welcome…

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