Gold Cup winner Coneygree receives hero's welcome

Nico de Boinville riding Coneygree celebrates as he enters the winners enclosure after victory in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup
Image: Coneygree received a hero's welcome

Hundreds of friends and well-wishers flocked to the sleepy Oxfordshire village of Letcombe Bassett to welcome home Coneygree following his fairytale triumph in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Friends of Mark and Sara Bradstock made a beeline for the couple's Old Manor Stables straight after racing, armed with bottle upon bottle of champagne.

Coinciding with this, camera crews were setting up their equipment for a Saturday morning reception that was broadcast to the nation.

But trainer Mark and Coneygree's jockey Nico de Boinville pulled out of the village at 9.30am to make the journey to saddle the gelding's close relative Carruthers in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter - leaving Sara Bradstock, daughter of Coneygree's breeder, the late Lord Oaksey, to relive the memorable moments in which her pride and joy became the first novice to plunder chasing's blue riband in 41 years.

For Sara, there was never at any stage concern that Coneygree's novice status would prove a handicap against the best chasers from England and Ireland.

She said: "He doesn't know he's a novice and he certainly doesn't jump like one. This horse jumps two to three times each week and jumping is part of his training programme.

"Everybody here works for the same thing. The horses are fit and happy and always wanting to be out on the racecourse competing.

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"We pay a tremendous amount of detail to all our horses' preparations, and that's got to help. I do hope that what happened yesterday is a shot in the arm for all small trainers. It's hard to believe a little 10-horse yard can do what we did, but they can."

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The Bradstocks got it completely right when trusting in a weather forecast that promised rain on Gold Cup morning, a factor that made the decision to skip the RSA Chase two days earlier all the more straightforward.

Sara said: "If you looked at the forecast it always said there was going to be rain. It was meant to rain quite hard on the Friday morning, and it did.

"It was so encouraging after his win at Kempton on Boxing Day, the other jockeys said their horses fell because Coneygree was going so fast. Looking to the Gold Cup 12 months' hence, I imagine Don Poli and Vautour might try to beat us, but they're are going to have to go a bit !"

She vowed not to let her superstitious nature get the better of her in the hours leading up to the race and went on: "I am superstitious, right down to the knickers and socks I wear.

"We'd already had a Friday the 13th in February which made me happier regarding that one, while a black cat ran across my path but on this occasion I chose to ignore it.

"I saw a magpie fly by and said 'Good morning your majesty and how are your family and friends today?'."

Confirming that Coneygree will be roughed off for the season and spend his summer at Oaksey, the family seat of her late father, Sara hinted that the King George VI Chase would be the midway pivotal point of the gelding's campaign next season.

She went on: "Although I'm not mad on Haydock, we will look at the Betfair Chase before Kempton, but there's a possibility we might try to win the Hennessy off top weight. We know he likes Kempton, but generally speaking we'll be looking not to run him on a sharp track. Our dream is that he's another Denman.

"He's a lightweight, long-legged horse and even though the cut in the ground was helpful there's no reason why he won't do it on good ground. Now he'll be ridden and hack about for a month or so. He won't go to Aintree. As far as racing is concerned I think he's done plenty for the year."

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