As if it wasn’t enough that Coneygree was bred by one of the most beloved figures in National Hunt racing and represents a small stable of popular grafters, the fact that he is the first British-bred Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in two decades – since Master Oats in 1995 – adds further lustre to his achievements.
His tour de force at Prestbury Park was a performance that will remain undimmed in the memories of jumps fans for decades. “He doesn’t know he’s a novice,” said an elated Sara Bradstock after his pillar-to-post win, and she’s right, of course. But we all knew, and that’s what made watching the race that bit more excruciating and his ultimate triumph all the more astonishing and satisfying.
Two of the four feature races of the Festival fell to British-bred winners
Also satisfying was the fact that two of the four feature races of the Festival fell to British-bred winners, with the Frankie Dettori-bred Dodging Bullets outlasting the evergreen Somersby and Special Tiara in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Adding to the GB haul through the week were Darna, a nine-year-old son of the pensioned Alflora bred by Leonard Fuller, who lifted the Grade 3 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate, and the Juddmonte/Millsec-bred County Hurdle winner Wicklow Brave.
Finally, plaudits must go to spring-heeled veteran The Package, who, at 12, is a member of Kayf Tara’s second crop but belied his age by skipping up the Cheltenham hill to post a 12-length victory in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase. His homebred dam Ardent Bride may have been an underwhelming performer for the Embiricos family’s Barkfold Manor Stud but she has produced a highly likeable and durable campaigner in The Package, who could yet line up for his third attempt at the Grand National this month.
In this transitional month, as we prepare to bid farewell – on the track at least – to AP McCoy, it’s also time to start assessing the first runners of the freshman stallions. While a significant number of the season’s races no longer count towards the jockeys’ championship, every single juvenile contest of the year, from the Brocklesby and beyond, will matter in the race to be champion first-season sire.
Among this year’s leading contenders are two winners of the Irish 2,000 Guineas – Canford Cliffs and Roderic O’Connor – as well as Derby winner Pour Moi, crack sprinter Dream Ahead and Group 1-winning two-year-old Zoffany.
Ballylinch Stud provided last season’s champion, Lope De Vega, and the Co Kilkenny team has a decent chance of retaining the title this season with Dream Ahead, who covered 134 mares in his first book and landed both the Prix Morny and Middle Park Stakes in his own outstanding two-year-old season.
Bloodstock expert Joseph Burke, who represents online bookmaker Racebets.com, has made the betting market for first-season sires his own in recent years, and though he rates Dream Ahead a 5/2 chance, the son of Diktat is second favourite to Coolmore stallion Canford Cliffs.
“It’s always difficult to know what to expect from first-season stallions but it’s reasonable to assume they might throw horses similar in type to themselves and it is for that reason that Canford Cliffs heads the betting,” says Burke. “The five-time Group 1 winner was the highest rated of the 2012 intake and his offspring are well distributed among a wide variety of trainers so he has everything going for him. Dream Ahead was the second-highest rated, courtesy of Group 1 wins at two and three, and he is next in at 5/2.”
The stock of Zoffany, another Coolmore representative who was well patronised with a first book of 194 mares, was popular at the yearling sales, his 81 yearlings sold to date having returned an average of 49,705gns. Similar comments apply to Darley’s son of Dubawi, Poet’s Voice, who, with a couple of whopping yearling sales prices set an average figure last year of 102,163gns for his 47 sold.
Lilbourne Lad raced solely at two, winning as early as mid-April, so it will be no surprise to see some of his stock being quick off the mark. Though the Derby winner tag may count against him in perception terms, Pour Moi’s young stock looked on the whole to be quite handy types who may not take as long to come to hand as some of the offspring of middle-distance stallions. Let’s not forget Dawn Approach, though fairly speedily-bred on his dam’s side, is by the Derby winner New Approach but managed to win the first juvenile contest of the Irish turf season in March 2012 and remained unbeaten through to the Dewhurst in October.
A personal preference must be expressed for Roderic O’Connor, who is bred on the Galileo/Danehill cross but avoids the hoopla surrounding another representative of that cross, Frankel. As a group, his sales yearlings were an impressive bunch and it would be pleasing to see him succeed for the team at Ballyhane Stud, which is also home to freshman Frozen Power, an Oasis Dream half-brother to the highly talented racemare and broodmare Finsceal Beo.