Injury puts Coneygree out of the Gold Cup running
Irish horses now dominate the betting with three Mullins horses in the top four for Cheltenham feature race
Nico de Boinville riding Coneygree on their way to winning at Sandown last month. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Irish-trained horses dominate the betting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup after Britain’s top hope and reigning champion Coneygree was taken out of the ante-post lists for the blue riband in March.
The Mark Bradstock-trained eight-year-old has gone to Newmarket for further veterinary assessment after suffering an injury and it is believed he will miss the rest of the campaign.
Coneygree, who looked so impressive on his return to action at Sandown in November, had been in the frame to run over Christmas in the King George VI Chase at Kempton or the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.
But plans have been derailed after he suffered what is understood to be slab fractures in both hocks, although it is not thought to be a career-threatening setback.
Sara Bradstock, the Oxfordshire trainer’s wife and assistant, said: “He is injured and will not run in the King George or the Lexus. The Christmas run is out. He is in no distress and walked on to the box sound. The vets at Newmarket will have a good look at him and we’ll see what they discover – it will be a day or two before we have any news.
“They’ll probably scan him and we’ll see what the extent of the damage is. We know the engine is there, but the long legs that serve him so well on the racecourse are a bit fragile.
“Everyone knows I think the world of this horse, which is why we’re being careful. There will be no corners cut. He will be back, but at this stage I can’t tell you when that will be.”
Coneygree missed an appearance in last month’s Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury after he suffered a foot problem, but Sara Bradstock said the latest setback was unrelated.
He was ridden by Nico de Boinville, who said: “Obviously it is very disappointing, especially for the whole Bradstock team at home and connections, as he has been such a superstar horse. That’s horse racing for you, it’s what makes the good days worthwhile.”
Willie Mullins is now responsible for three of the top four in the market – last season’s runner-up Djakadam, Don Poli, and Vautour – with the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack the other vying for favouritism.
Ladbrokes have three co-favourites at 5-1 with Vautour an 11-2 chance in a revamped market. “It’s a big blow to the race ... and it’s a blow to those of us who thought we were in a vintage era,” said David Williams of Ladbrokes.
“Djakadam, Don Cossack and Don Poli are co-favourites at 5-1 and Vautour is 11-2. Literally, you can throw a handkerchief over the front four.
“Then you’ve got Cue Card at 10-1. There is not a single horse trained in the UK that is a single-figure price. “We’ve lost our best hope, sadly.”
Mullins, who will send Vautour to the King George, was full of sympathy for the Bradstock team. He said: “It’s unfortunate Coneygree is not there [at Christmas]. We are all only one gallop away from the same position, with something going wrong.
“I cross my fingers every morning that there is nothing to tell me.”