With Don Cossack, Cue Card and Saphir Du Rheu having already put down markers for the new season, and it’s now the turn of the champ to show that his Gold Cup success was no flash in the pan.
The rise of Coneygree was one of last winter’s most heart-warming stories. His performance when thumping more experienced opposition in the Denman Chase at Newbury proved merely a warning shot across the bows. He saved his best for the main event at the Cheltenham Festival when simply sensational in victory. Still only a novice chaser at the time, he took the race by the scruff of the neck, and remorselessly jumped and galloped the field into submission.
His return at Sandown on Sunday is eagerly anticipated. The listed Future Stars Chase is open to second season chasers and appears a perfect stepping stone towards a crack at the Hennessy Gold Cup later in the month.
Coneygree's jockey Nico de Boinville said of the race: “There's a loophole there and we're making full use of it. There's no point giving him a harder prep-race than he needs, and it's the perfect start for him and hopefully he can have a nice race, not do too much, and set himself up nicely for whatever comes in the future.”
The Champion stayer is likely to face a stiff test in his first outing of the new campaign. Paul Nicholls has entered Southfield Theatre, himself no mug having finished runner-up in the RSA at Cheltenham back in March. Don Poli proved too strong on that occasion but the seven-year-old is more than capable of running a big race first time out, having won his last three seasonal openers.
Puffin Billy is another intriguing contender. He has plenty to find off a rating of 155, but having had problems when first turning to fences, appeared to be getting the hang of it towards the end of last season, racking up a confidence boosting hat-trick. Indeed he finished his novice chase campaign with four wins from six starts.
His trainer Oliver Sherwood commented: “Puffin Billy is rated higher than Many Clouds was this time last year, but - and it's a big but - there's no doubt in my mind Puffin Billy is a better horse going right-handed than left-handed. The Hennessy is very much on the agenda, but we've got to iron that out.”
Coneygree is yet to lose over fences and connections will be hopeful that the young Champion can maintain that impressive record. Whatever the outcome it looks sure to be a terrific race, though the objective for most is to blow off the cobwebs, with the Hennessy very much on the radar.