We’ll know when to re­tire Coney­gree - and it’s not yet

Nick Townsend talks to the re­mark­able Brad­stocks about Lord Oak­sey’s legacy

The Racing Paper - - Feature - The pa­rade of five re­trained race­horses, Sire De Grugy, Zarkan­dar, Melodic Ren­dezvous and An­na­cotty, as well as Car­ruthers, will take place prior to the run­ning of Satur­day’s Sir Peter O’Sull­e­van Memo­rial Hand­i­cap Chase (1.20pm) at New­bury. The Peter O’Su

New­bury will be awash with emo­tion to­day, and none more so than within the Brad­stock fam­ily when their now 13-yearold Car­ruthers, win­ner of the Hen­nessy Gold Cup there seven years ago, will be one of a quin­tet parad­ing, in honour of their past glo­ries.

The fam­ily’s link with the ‘Hen­nessy’, be­ing run to­day in its cur­rent guise as the Ladbrokes Tro­phy, stretches back 60 years. It was here, in 1958, that Sara Brad­stock’s fa­ther, the much-loved Lord Oak­sey, the am­a­teur rider-turned jour­nal­ist and broad­caster, then rid­ing as Mr John Lawrence, won the se­cond-ever run­ning of the race on Taxi­der­mist.

Ac­knowl­edged as the finest post­war Corinthian rider, his great­est con­tri­bu­tion to rac­ing was found­ing, and be­com­ing a tire­less cam­paigner and fundraiser for, the In­jured Jock­eys Fund. His statue now stands out­side the IJF’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre for rid­ers in Lam­bourn.

Yet for all his suc­cesses he could scarcely have imag­ined that 53 years after his ‘Hen­nessy’ tri­umph he would win the race as an owner­breeder.

That’s what he achieved in 2011 when his Car­ruthers, trained by Sara and his son-in-law Mark at Let­combe Bas­sett near New­bury landed the big­gest hand­i­cap chase out­side of Ain­tree.

For one of the coun­try’s small­est Na­tional Hunt yards, that might have been the zenith of their achieve­ments. It proved only the be­gin­ning.

Just over three years’ later, the cou­ple de­liv­ered a Chel­tenham Gold Cup win­ner in the im­pos­ing shape of Car­ruthers’ younger half­brother Coney­gree. Both horses were sons of Lord Oak­sey’s cheaply-pur­chased mare Plaid Maid. Her prog­eny have won 23 races be­tween them.

“It was a proper fairy­tale,” says Sara, whose fa­ther died in 2012, aged 83. “We bought Plaid Maid for a cou­ple of grand to breed some­thing for Dad in his re­tire­ment – and he bred a Hen­nessy win­ner and Gold Cup win­ner.”

Not that early signs were pro­pi­tious. “Car­ruthers looked like a midget to be­gin with,” re­calls Sara. “Ev­ery­body laughed at him.” But not for long. In a ca­reer punc­tu­ated by in­jury, he won nine of his 16 races and nearly £500,000 in prize money. “It’s pretty in­cred­i­ble to breed two horses as good as Car­ruthers and Coney­gree. And Flintham (a full-brother of Car­ruthers, and win­ner of four hur­dles) isn’t bad, ei­ther.”

After re­tir­ing from rac­ing un­der rules in 2015, Car­ruthers was rid­den in point-to-points by Sara’s daugh­ter Lily, who works full-time at the yard and will part­ner him to­day. “He’s just a fam­ily pet re­ally,” says Sara. “He just does stuff he loves do­ing. He does a lit­tle bit of team chas­ing, a lit­tle bit of hunt­ing, He loves chil­dren rid­ing him around the yard. You could put a baby on him.”

His kid brother, Gold Cup vic­tor Coney­gree, who is aged a mere 11, de­fied ex­pec­ta­tions in some quar­ters that he would be re­tired after be­ing pulled up in two runs last win­ter when he re­turned to ac­tion at Chel­tenham a fort­night ago.

Jump­ing ef­fi­ciently, he fin­ished a cred­itable third to Rock The Kas­bah un­der top weight in the BetVic­tor.com Hand­i­cap Chase.

“It was very good to put two fingers up to them (cer­tain rac­ing pundits) when Coney­gree ran so be­cause they’d told us we should re­tire him,” says Sara, who rides Coney­gree in his home work. “It was won­der­ful to see him back.”

All be­ing well, Coney­gree is bound for a tilt at the 32Red King Ge­orge VI Chase at Kemp­ton on Box­ing Day. ‘All be­ing well’ is a nec­es­sary ad­den­dum.

“Kemp­ton is the plan, though he doesn’t have a good record of get- ting through Christ­mas,” ad­mits Sara. “He’s a bit of a Scrooge. He likes to go lame at Christ­mas. I’m ban­ning any­one from men­tion­ing Christ­mas any­where near him. Twice be­fore, ahead of the King Ge­orge, some­thing’s gone wrong.”

You re­mind her that the pro­lific geld­ing has won at Kemp­ton, by no fewer than 30 lengths, on Box­ing Day. That was in the 2014 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, dur­ing a se­quence of five suc­ces­sive wins, which in­cluded the Chel­tenham Gold Cup.

She adds: “I’m sort of hope­ful, and I’m touch­ing ev­ery piece of wood. He’s proper frag­ile. He’s very tal­ented but he’s got these in­cred­i­bly long back legs. They prob­a­bly act as very ef­fec­tive pis­tons, but they’re weak. It’s well-doc­u­mented that he’s had hock surgery. But he still loves to do it. Yes, he’s 11 years old, but at the same time he’s got no miles on the clock, has he?”

Had she con­sid­ered re­tir­ing the yard’s star per­former? “The point I want to make to all these peo­ple (again, rac­ing pundits) is that very few of them know any­thing about lov­ing horses. This horse is my friend, and I would not do it if he didn’t love it, if it wasn’t what he wanted to do.”

Sara adds: “I don’t know whether he’s still good enough to win a King Ge­orge, but he cer­tainly showed his en­gine on (good) ground that was wrong for him at Chel­tenham.”

The sta­ble’s eight-year-old Step Back was an­other sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess for the Brad­stocks, win­ning the ‘Whit­bread’, the end of Jump sea­son fea­ture, but now called the bet365 Gold Cup, at Sandown in April. The Grand Na­tional is his tar­get, though he’s an­other horse that doesn’t like win­ter.

“He has ter­ri­ble trou­ble with mus­cle en­zyme prob­lems,” ex­plains Sara. “It’s harder to keep him right in win­ter. We treat him like a filly, and put lights on and try to kid him it’s Spring.”

There can be no doubt­ing the Brad­stocks’ abil­ity to ex­tract the op­ti­mum from of­ten del­i­cate charges. Yet, one of rac­ing’s great co­nun­drums is why own­ers aren’t fall­ing over them­selves to place their horses with the cou­ple.

Mark spent many years with five-times cham­pion trainer Fulke Wal­wyn, end­ing up as his as­sis­tant while for­mer am­a­teur rider Sara, whose grand­fa­ther ‘Gin­ger’ Den­nis­toun was a trainer, worked with Nick Gase­lee and David Elsworth. The pair com­bined their tal­ents in 1992.

Sara says: “We’ve proved again and again that we can beat the big guys with horses that have cost noth­ing and have had to nurse to where they are.

Sara adds: “I wouldn’t want 100 horses, but I’d love to have 30 in train­ing, and some in the back­ground wait­ing to come in. For now, we have to keep bat­tling away and hope­fully find an­other gem. And let’s hope Coney­gree can go and win some­thing else.”

“We’ve proved again and again that we can beat the big guys with horses that have cost noth­ing and have had to nurse to where they are”

Champ is back: Coney­gree at Chel­tenham two weeks ago

Fam­ily line up: Sara and Mark Brad­stock with Coney­gree. Be­low: Lord Oak­sey

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