After his absence deprived the Hennessy Gold Cup of one star act, in recent weeks it has been the King George VI Chase that Coneygree’s will-he, won’t-he? quandary has played havoc with.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup winner missed the Newbury event at the end of November after a poor schooling session, but it was an administration error that leaves his Boxing Day participation up in the air.
Mark Bradstock claimed a ‘computer error’ resulted in their stable-star not being given an entry for the big race at Kempton, and now faces the decision as to whether to pay the supplementary fee of £10,000 to enter his horse.
The trainer today claimed that he is in no rush to commit either way, after his eight-year-old put in an improved schooling session at his Oxfordshire yard.
“We don’t have to make a decision until Monday. I’m not going to rush it,” he said.
“He’ll work probably tomorrow or Thursday and we’ll see how he comes out of that with evening stables and things. That’s important.
“If we are able to make a decision before Monday we will, if not we won’t.”
The cost of the extra fee to see his charge run at the Sunbury-on-Thames track shouldn’t be a stumbling block with his Festival prize surpassing the £300,000 mark.
And while this week is set to be relatively dry, the threat of rain in the days leading up to Christmas should mean that the horse’s favoured soft underfoot conditions are prevalent.
With 5/1 on offer there is plenty to like about this gallant front-runner.
For starters, he has already tasted victory at the track, having taken the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase 12 months ago, when leading from the front to give his competitors, including one-time Gold Cup hope Saphir Du Rheu, a torrid time, when winning by 40 lengths.
He followed that up three-and-a-half months later when becoming the first novice in 41 years to claim the Gold Cup, with similar tactics playing a part at Prestbury Park.
If given an easy(ish) lead at the Surrey track, it could be that the way the Cheltenham race was run being repeated, with the son of Karinga Bay giving some elder statesmen of the track the runaround with his quick, economic jumping and relentless gallop.
With all his previous exploits to his name and potentially more to come after just five chase starts, why then is he still a rather plump price?
For one, the King George isn’t his only possible engagement, with the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown two days later an option, although his handler has confirmed that Kempton would be his preference.
The big stumbling block that could have many having second thoughts about backing him is that we could be set for one of the strongest renewals of the race for some time.
Of the 16 horses priced at 33/1 or shorter in Ladbrokes’ market for the race, only three are yet to win a Grade 1 over fences.
Some of them will of course head to Ireland and swerve this race, but it still promises to be an excellent running.
But while the likely runners possess plenty of class, many near the head of the market do have questions to answer.
Vautour looks a star over fences, but whether it is over the staying trips remains to be seen.
He won over two-miles-four at Ascot on his seasonal reappearance and while it was a solid enough run, it wasn’t the electric performance many were predicting.
His stamina will be well and truly tested if Coneygree gets into a rhythm out in front leaving him no hiding place.
The tendency to jump out to his left that he showed on his first run of the season will also go against him around the right-hand bends of Kempton.
He looks a Ryanair Chase winner in-waiting but whether he should be as short as 3/1 with his stamina far from assured is questionable.
Stamina won’t be a problem for two-time winner of the race Silviniaco Conti but with Paul Nicholls’ charge going down tamely in defeat last time out, he needs to prove that the spark is still there.
Cue Card was the horse that beat him that day in the Betfair Chase, and has been a real comeback king this term.
A win in the Charlie Hall Chase was followed up with the win at Haydock, proving that the procedure to fix a trapped epiglottis worked a treat.
He looks like the horse of old, but with two defeats in two attempts in this race, whether he is up to winning this strong renewal is up for debate.
If Coneygree lines up, the big danger to his chances (in this writer’s opinion at least) looks to be Don Cossack.
The highest rated chaser in training in the UK and Ireland could be something very special in the years ahead.
After a third place finish in the Ryanair Chase when everything went against him at Cheltenham, Gordon Elliot’s charge put things right firstly at Aintree and then back in Ireland with an authoritative victory in the Punchestown Gold Cup.
Behind him that day were the duo of Djakadam and Road To Riches, the second and third behind Coneygree one month earlier.
The winning distance was greater for ‘The Don’, but how clear a measure of his credentials against the Gold Cup winner they are remains to be seen.
The Gigginstown-owned gelding has done nothing wrong, but at 5/2 and the potential for Coneygree to take him on and provide another tough opponent, looks a touch on the short side at the moment.
But with ground conditions set to be in his favour, course form, a proven ability to jump well and the undoubted quality to deliver a relentless gallop, all things point to a bet on the Bradstocks taking another big prize with their star.
Now all they need to do is give him an entry.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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