Coneygree doesn’t like me!
Mark Bradstock tells James Stevens about his love-hate relationship with his 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero
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