Coney­gree doesn’t like me!

Mark Brad­stock tells James Stevens about his love-hate re­la­tion­ship with his 2015 Chel­tenham Gold Cup hero

Racing Ahead - - INTERVIEW -

good he was. He went back there (Chel­tenham for the Clas­sic Novices Hur­dle Race) and was beaten by The New One and At Fisher’s Cross.”

To date this was to be his last de­feat, in that sea­son At Fisher’s Cross went on to win the Al­bert Bartlett at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val be­fore strik­ing again at Ain­tree, The New One went on to win the Bar­ing Bing­ham Novices Hur­dle at the Fes­ti­val; Coney­gree had bumped into two horses on their way to Grade One glory.

At the age of six, Coney­gree didn’t run again that sea­son, but was em­bark­ing on what was to be a ground-break­ing year. De­clared to run at Plump­ton in Novem­ber, the stew­ards ruled him out for lame­ness. Sara, who wel­comed me into her house so nicely, may not have been as nice to the vet that day. In an in­ter­view with the Rac­ing Post she slammed:“It’s a to­tal dis­grace”. She went on to say:“He’s never seen a horse in his life be­fore.”

A week later he re­turned to Newbury and took the Berk­shire Novices Chase,but next up was his big shot at a Grade One race at Kempton. Nigel Twis­ton-Davies’ Saphir Du Rheu was sent off the favourite for Kempton’s Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, but a strong run by Coney­gree rub­ber stamped his cre­den­tials as a top chaser.He took the Grade One by a mas­sive 40 lengths.

“We al­ways had high hopes as he was so good over hur­dles,” says Brad­stock as he stands up and wan­ders to the other side of the room. “What he did at Kempton was sim­ply awe­some,a lot of peo­ple doubted it.A lot of horses fell and said‘that’s why he won and it wasn’t a proper race.’ The rea­son ev­ery­one fell was be­cause they couldn’t go his gal­lop. It was a great day out.”

The ob­vi­ous place to go next was the RSA at Chel­tenham, a sim­i­lar field and a sim­i­lar level but Mark Brad­stock knew he was classy and the thought of the il­lus­tri­ous Gold Cup was very tempt­ing — and he didn’t know where to go next.

“Then we had the dilemma,be­cause we had de­clared for the Gold Cup,” says the trainer.“It was the RSA or Gold Cup, and we had to choose which way we were go­ing. Then we went to the Den­man Chase against older horses and hand­i­cap­pers. We wanted to see whether we were to­tally bark­ing up the wrong tree or not with the Gold Cup.Nico sadly couldn’t ride him,he had a two-day stick ban,so we got Richard John­son to ride him. He’d never sat on him,we just went from there.”

Once again Coney­gree con­tin­ued to im­press, in Newbury’s Den­man he eas­ily brushed apart the field win­ning by seven lengths. But next up was his tough­est test, the truest test in jump rac­ing, the Chel­tenham Gold Cup where no novice had won since 1974.

At an early price of 14-1 he wasn’t fan­cied, and as the rain fell on the Glouces­ter­shire track the team were con­fi­dent they had made the right call.

“There was an aw­ful lot of rain, which was great,”Mark says smil­ing.“I mean the RSA, as my wife says, if he had won the RSA by 10 lengths then we would have kicked our­selves that we didn’t go for to the Gold Cup. In our opin­ion it was a no brainer,and when the rain ar­rived,great!”

Brad­stock de­scribes how his nerves get the bet­ter of him, how he strug­gles to watch any nor­mal race. I won­der how much more in­tense it much feel when you’ve got a key player at the pin­na­cle of jumps rac­ing.

“Whether it’s the Gold Cup or any race, I’m ter­ri­ble,” he says al­most laugh­ing. “I get des­per­ately ner­vous, not just on the

Mark Brad­stock

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