The upcoming Ladbrokes Winter Carnival is Newbury’s winter highlight, and racing lovers especially look forward to the feature race, the Ladbrokes Trophy, which is for horses aged 4yo+. Although it is ‘only’ a Grade 3 handicap event, this 3m 2.5f test of stamina has a habit of highlighting horses worth following in the season’s major events.
The Ladbrokes Trophy was originally called the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, and the first race took place at Cheltenham in 1957. Since then, the race has produced several future Gold Cup winners, and one or two superstars. While this year produce another horse for the ages?
A Brief History of the Ladbrokes Trophy
Mandarin was the first winner and is one of only three horses to win this race twice, with the second win coming in 1961. At that stage, the race had already been transferred to Newbury (in 1960). Despite these successes, Mandarin’s greatest moment came in the 1962 Grand Steeplechase de Paris. Fred Winter was the jockey that day, and Mandarin’s bit broke early on in the race.
It seemed as if Winter had an impossible task of trying to get around a four-mile circuit with a ‘figure of eight’ design with no steering or brakes. Somehow, he kept his horse in the race until disaster struck three fences out. One of Mandarin’s forelegs broke down; surely, he was finished? Incredibly, the horse not only continued, but he took the lead with 100 yards to go. Sadly, Lumino grabbed victory on the line. However, despite finishing in second place, it is a performance that has gone down in history.
One of the other two horses to win the Ladbrokes Trophy is Arkle (in 1964 and 1965) who is regarded as the greatest steeplechaser ever. His Timeform rating of 212 is the highest ever recorded. According to the famous commentator, Peter O’Sullevan, Arkle was a “freak of nature – something unlikely to be seen again.”
Arkle won this race as a 7yo and an 8yo and was at his peak; his unfortunate rivals had no chance. Arkle also won the Gold Cup in 1964 and 1965 (and in 1966), along with several other major races. The 1964 Gold Cup was one of the most hotly anticipated races of the century, yet Arkle easily beat his rival, Mill House, by five lengths.
The last two-time Ladbrokes Trophy winner was Denman (in 2007 and 2009). His first win was an 11-length procession while in 2009, he had another comfortable win by almost four lengths. Denman famously went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2008.
In total, nine Ladbrokes Trophy winners have gone on to win the Gold Cup including a couple of recent examples. Bob’s Worth won this race in 2012 and the Gold Cup in 2013, and Native River triumphed in the Ladbrokes Trophy in 2016 before winning the 2018 Gold Cup. Although the link between this race and the Grand National isn’t as strong, 2014 winner, Many Clouds, won the 2015 Grand National. Last year’s Ladbroke’s Trophy winner, Total Recall, was this year’s Grand National favourite but was pulled up towards the end of the race.
What Kind of Horse Wins the Ladbrokes Trophy?
As you might expect, we need to wait a few more days until we discover the final line-up. As a result, it is impossible to provide a detailed overview at this stage. What I can do however is provide you with relevant trends to help you narrow down the field when the time comes.
There are 42 potential entries at the time of writing, but in recent years, the field has ranged from 15 to 21 runners. At present, Elegant Escape is the 6/1 favourite, followed by Kemboy and Thomas Patrick at 8/1. The rest of the field is 12/1+.
The favourite’s trainer, Colin Tizzard, is confident after his charge defeated Thomas Patrick by half a length early this month. Tizzard believes the run will make Elegant Escape sharper. He also believes the horse is similar to Native River and admits that the Gold Cup is a possibility this season.
Meanwhile, Thomas Patrick’s trainer, Tom Lacey, is hoping for rain at Newbury. There are several interesting potential entries including Thistlecrack, The Young Master, and Total Recall. Here are some interesting trends:
- The last 13 winners have had an OR of 145+.
- 10/13 winners carried 11-1 or more.
- 18/21 winners finished in the top 3 in their previous race.
- 14/21 winners were in the top 3 in the betting market. There have only been 3/21 winners outside the top 9.
- 19/21 winners were aged 6, 7, or 8. However, only two 6yos have won in the last 11 years. Denman is the only 9yo+ winner since 1998.
- 18/21 winners had 0-1 season runs.
Even if we elect to ignore the betting market for now (and we should), ruthless elimination of the preliminary field reduces our field to just five contenders! They are Clan des Obeaux, Elegant Escape, Kemboy, Black Corton, Yala Enki.
As the Ladbrokes Trophy is a test of stamina, we need to make sure our contenders have won at least one race run over a distance of 3 miles or more. It is also important that your selection also has a win in a Graded race. Only Clan des Obeaux has failed to win a race of at least three miles.
If we were focusing on odds, we would look at Kemboy and Elegant Escape who both won their last race. Kemboy’s three-length win in a Grade 2 at Clonmel is good form. Black Corton has a Grade 1 win under his belt and has also won on soft ground. He could be value at 20/1. Yala Enki had an astonishing 54-length win in a Grade 3 on heavy ground at Haydock in February (although only three of the eight runners finished) and will only be carrying four pounds more if entering this race. He could be overpriced at 33/1.
On paper, it looks like Kemboy and Elegant Escape have the best chance. Will, one of them, win the Ladbrokes Trophy, and if they do, will they go on to achieve great things?