After the unsatisfactory climax to last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, when a messy finish was referred to the stewards’ room, there can be no doubt that this year’s victor Coneygree is the best staying chaser in Britain or Ireland following his thrilling success under Nico de Boinville.
Despite the relative inexperience of horse and jockey, both novices in their field, Coneygree jumped for fun under a brave front-running ride, answering every question asked of him while those in behind struggled to keep pace with jumping’s new hero.
Indeed, the result had the feel of a new dawn for elite steeplechasing, with the first four home all aged eight or under and running in the blue riband for the first time.
The result had the feel of a new dawn for elite steeplechasing
The vanquished older guard, including previous winners Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere, were unable to lay a glove on the young pretenders, a comment that also applies to beaten favourite Silviniaco Conti, who has never shown his best form around Prestbury Park.
The fact that Coneygree even ran in the main event – he was also entered for the RSA Chase – is testament to Mark and Sara Bradstock’s training skills. They knew their horse was ready for such a test, while many commentators thought the novice route would present the best/easier option, backed by the statistic that the 20 previous attempts by novices in the Gold Cup had ended in defeat or, worse, tragedy.
It is strange to think that Mark Bradstock, who has enjoyed previous big-race successes with King Harald and Coneygree’s half-brother, Carruthers, has never made it into double figures in a season. Surely this trainer deserves more ammunition – the results suggest owners could do far worse than picking Old Manor Stables in Oxfordshire.
Unlike his National Hunt colleague, Sir Mark Prescott has rarely had to worry about attracting enough patrons to his famous Newmarket yard. He once turned down the offer of yearlings from none other than Sheikh Mohammed, for the simple reason that he was content with his lot and did not want any upheaval, as he explains to Julian Muscat.
In what is his 46th year with a licence, Prescott, who is famous for his unparalleled placing of handicappers – “it is my job to ensure none of my horses ever carry any more weight that they should have to” – will go to war with a genuine 2,000 Guineas contender in the shape of Celestial Path, whose two-year-old campaign ended with a fine third in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy.
Time will tell whether Celestial Path, owned by Gordon Woodall and National Hunt fan Caroline Tisdall, can add to the tally of Prescott winners that has almost reached the 2,000-mark. The trainer himself is proud that his 50-box outfit has amassed such a figure and now unearthed a potential star.
“That’s a big thing,” he says. “If I’d known I was going to train 2,000 winners when I started, I’d have been thrilled.
“Celestial Path works very well, although he probably wouldn’t quite be up to it unless the 2,000 Guineas is not as good [a renewal] as it should be. He won’t need a prep race and he would love firm ground.”
Prescott has never won a British Classic, although he captured the Prix de Diane in 2006 with Confidential Lady. However, this old-school handler, who has begun the campaign in flying form (operating at a 40% strike-rate at the time of writing), could well break that record in 2015, 45 years after he took over at Heath House aged 21 following the death of Jack Waugh.
Perhaps that should sound a note of caution to those banking on Coneygree or Don Poli dominating the Gold Cup finish next season – you can never discount the older brigade.