Unbeaten novice Coneygree runs top rivals ragged to strike gold
Despite record-breaking week, Mullins has to settle for second in blue riband for the fifth time
Jockey Nico de Boinville and Coneygree led from the start to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the final day of the festival. photograph: adrian dennis
At the end of three and a quarter miles and twenty two fences there were no arguments and no excuses: Coneygree, the unbeaten novice, had dared his Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup rivals to pass him and none could manage it.
That Coneygree was bred by a fondly remembered peer of the realm, the former jockey and television pundit, Lord Oaksey, couldn’t prevent the victory being presented as one for the ‘little guy’ either.
At the line the first novice Gold Cup winner since Captain Christy in 1974 was in front of a pair of impeccably connected Irish rivals - Djakadam representing the all-conquering Willie Mullins and American banker Rich Ricci, and Road To Riches who carries the colours of Michael O’Leary.
The Ryanair boss knows what winning steeplechasing’s ‘blue-riband’ feels like and has spent a small fortune trying to replicate War Of Attrition’s victory nine years ago. Ricci continues to spend a substantial slice of his own fortune trying to find out what it’s like.
Mullins has re-written the festival record book this week and yet for a fifth time endured the gnawing frustration of having to settle for second in the race that matters most of all.
That he trains an outstanding pair of novice prospects for next year’s Gold Cup - Ricci’s Vautour and O’Leary’s Don Poli - may be some balm but Mullins knows Gold Cups can swing on the littlest details which no amount of money or firepower can control.
It was only on Tuesday that Coneygree’s trainer Mark Bradstock decided to bypass the RSA novice option in favour of taking on the elite.
For a horse with just three races over fences under his belt it was a brave call but if jockey Nico de Boinville had any doubts about it they were eased by significant morning rain that turned the ground soft - “I was delighted when I heard it.”
The Gold Cup was just Coneygree’s tenth ever start but he didn’t surprise anyone by immediately going to the front and employing his spectacular jumping. Both Road To Riches and On His Own tried to mix it but ultimately let steeplechasing’s new star on point.
The 3-1 favourite Silviniaco Conti was quickly in trouble coming down the hill but Ruby Walsh smuggled Djakadam into contention alongside Road To Riches and both had Coneygree in their sights up the straight.
For a split second, the winner drifted right on the run-in and Djakadam looked to have a chance, but once de Boinville corrected Coneygree they had a length and a half in hand.
It was a hugely emotional family success with Bradstock’s wife, Sara, a daughter of Oaksey who died in 2012 and was an aristocratic pillar of Britain’s racing establishment.
“He (Oaksey) is here in spirit,” Sara Bradstock said. “Al the big yards spend telephone numbers on horses and our mare cost three thousand. It shows anyone can do it. You don’t need millions.”
Both Don Poli and Vautour were so impressive earlier in the week that some speculated the Coneygree camp were ultimately shrewd in leaving novice class. But Mullins pointed out the value of age and how Coneygree is eight compared to Djakadam who is two years younger.
“No excuses. We had every chance, and I have to commend the winner’s connections for their brave decision. He did it the hard way. Our horse ran a cracker but I think on that ground, and over this distance, age made a difference,” Mullins said.
Road To Riches’ trainer Noel Meade was left to rue the near 10mms of rain that fell earlier in the day.
“It wasn’t in our favour. I’m not saying he didn’t handle it but it suited the first two more. He just got tired on the run-in,” said Meade who nominated Punchestown’s Gold Cup as target in six weeks time.
Silviniaco Conti’s trainer Paul Nicholls offered no excuses but caught the general mood - “The winner was mighty impressive.”
There were no arguments with that.