Cheltenham: Coneygree can bag the big one for the novices

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When Paul Nicholls sends out Silviniaco Conti he’ll once again be attempting to dispel the theory that he simply doesn’t handle Cheltenham. But Conti won’t be the only horse bidding to pour scorn on a well known Gold Cup trend.

The fact that no novice has won Prestbury Park’s showpiece event since Captain Christy in 1974 will put many off the chances of Coneygree on Friday, but there is reason to be optimistic.

In truth, few novices attempt the feat – just three in this century – and were it not for Gloria Victis’ ill-fated fall at the second last when looking on for a place at the very least in 2000, the Bradstocks’ decision to run their eight-year-old in the race may not have been such a divisive one.

While he may be exaggerating his ability somewhat, the BHAs handicapper Phil Smith has the Feltham winner as highly rated as Denman as a novice, strong praise indeed.

And if he is right, you’d have to expect the gelding to go close in what is an open looking renewal.

There’s plenty to like about the unbeaten chaser, with his strong front-running style, exuberant jumping and sheer determination to gallop until the line.

Connections will be hoping for a drop of more rain at Cheltenham this week – a track he has won twice at before – but with victories on good to soft ground in the past the forecast surface should bode no problems.

And while doubters will prove to the long absence of a novice winner we can throw a few trends back.

–          All of the last 15 winners of the race had previously won a Grade 1 contest

–          19 of the last 21 winners were aged between seven and nine

–          12 of the last 14 winners were rated 166 or higher

Not only does the son of Karinga Bay meet every one of these patterns, but he is part of just a quartet of entrants that tick every box.

Paul Nicholls may argue that his favourite has been unlucky in the past when falling and finishing fourth, while others will be keen to back AP McCoy to go out with a bang on Carlingford Lough, and the Irish Hennessy winner could go well.

But he jumped terribly in the RSA Chase last year, and one feels he is there for the taking.

Defending champ Lord Windermere looks to have been brought along in a similar manner to the way he was campaigned before triumphing 12 months ago.

Winless over the winter, Jim Culloty’s charge will need to be at least at the same level in a potentially better renewal this time round and could be found out.

Instead, backing the young(ish) pretender to denounce the ‘novices don’t win the Gold Cup’ theory as a myth could be the way to go.

CONEYGREE has done nothing wrong, and can prove the doubters wrong at the Cheltenham Festival.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.