Coneygree’s trainer Sara Bradstock not scared of Thistlecrack

Cue Card likely be Gold Cup winner’s main threat should he appear in King George

Sara Bradstock, who assists her husband Mark in the training of the 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree, said on Monday that she will not see Thistlecrack as a serious danger to their horse if last season's World Hurdle winner lines up for the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

Thistlecrack, who is in his novice season over fences, is the second-favourite for the King George behind Cue Card, his stable companion at Colin Tizzard’s west country yard and last year’s winner of the race. Thistlecrack is also the favourite for the Gold Cup in March, a race that Coneygree won as a novice two seasons ago, but Bradstock sees Cue Card as a much bigger threat, at least in terms of the race at Kempton Park in a fortnight’s time.

“I can honestly stand here and say that I’m very frightened of Cue Card,” Bradstock said, “but I’m not frightened of Thistlecrack.

“I think that because we won the Gold Cup as a novice, everyone now thinks it’s possible. It wasn’t before then if you remember, it was totally impossible. The point about our horse is his focus and his jumping.

“Thistlecrack is a beautiful, very talented, athletic horse, but he’s still going in the air, he’s still jumping rather than racing to me. He’ll learn, I’m sure he will, but I think it’s going to be a tall order to go a Coneygree type of pace and jump. He hasn’t done that yet, has he?”

There is little mystery about the way in which this year’s King George is likely to unfold, until halfway down the home straight at least. Coneygree is a confirmed frontrunner whose stamina seems limitless, and while Cue Card is a horse who likes to cruise through a race and then quicken. Cue Card took the King George 12 months ago in a tight finish with Vautour, and there is little doubt that he has the superior turn of foot. The job for Coneygree’s connections is to ensure that he cannot exploit it.

“The only way we can beat Cue Card is by making it impossible for him to get to us cruising,” Bradstock said. “If you see him cruising up behind us, he’s going to beat us, because he’s got more toe than us, but what I want to see is him already having to start racing before he gets to us. Then we’re in for a battle, which I’m hopeful we can win.”

In addition to Cue Card, the biggest concern for Bradstock, who rides Coneygree at exercise twice every day, is the lack of rain, both on their gallops near Wantage and at Kempton Park itself. Good going could yet see Coneygree divert to the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting, or wait for a race closer to the Festival in March, where a second win in the Gold Cup is his primary target for the season.

“The year he won everything [IN 2014-15], by this time he’d been working on the grass for two months,” Bradstock said. “This year we’ve done two bits of work on the grass with him and it was too fast for him. The way he races means that he’s got to be very, very fit. He canters on the grass, but you wouldn’t dare gallop on it.

“There won’t be any risks taken at Kempton. Even if it’s genuinely good ground but it’s fast rather than nearer good-to-soft, I don’t think we’ll run him. There’s the Lexus, and there’s also the race at Cheltenham [Cotswold Chase in January], and the Denman [Chase at Newbury in February] is also a possibility, and those [LATTER TWO]races have an attraction because we’d definitely have Nico [DE BOINVILLE]back by then.”

De Boinville, who has been Coneygree's partner in four of his six career starts over fences including his Gold Cup success, fractured his arm in a fall at Cheltenham in mid-November and is a major doubt to be fit in time to partner the nine-year-old on Boxing Day. Richard Johnson, Coneygree's rider when he finished second behind Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month, could take the reins again but might also be claimed under his retainer with Philip Hobbs.

“The other worry about the ground is that even if it’s good-to-soft, I suspect that [the Hobbs stable] might run Menorah,” Bradstock said. “I love this horse and I want everyone to know that he’s the greatest and for him to have won a King George. I believe there’s next year, because he has no miles on the clock, but at the same time, we won’t risk him.

"Our backup at Haydock [LAST MONTH]was Aidan Coleman, but he might have a ride [in the King George] and it's also Boxing Day, so people are going to be everywhere. It's difficult, because Richard is the very best, but this horse is a freak. He goes as fast as he can go, and then he goes faster.

“When somebody thinks they know better and try to save him, he won’t win. He’s got to go as fast as he can go and jump better and faster than everyone else.”

(Guardian service)