The Conditional on course for rearranged Denman Chase

David Bridgwater has confirmed The Conditional an intended runner in the rescheduled Denman Chase at Newbury next weekend, ahead of a likely return to the Cheltenham Festival.

The nine-year-old claimed a narrow victory in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the showpiece meeting last season and has run two sound races in defeat so far this term – finishing third in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and second in the Silver Cup at Ascot.

While the weather has disrupted running plans since the turn of the year, Bridgwater reports his stable star to be in rude health as he prepares to clash with dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux and the exciting Champ.

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He said: “He’ll be going to Newbury next weekend, all being well. There’s not many races left for him really, so he’ll be entered again and we’ll try again.

“The horse is in fantastic order, but he’ll need to be.

“He was going to go to Cheltenham for the Cotswold Chase at the end of January, but when it got moved to Sandown last Saturday I didn’t want to run because I’m not sure he wants to go right-handed.

“He went to Ascot and didn’t really like that, so I didn’t think he’d like Sandown.”

Bridgwater expects to have a clearer idea after The Conditional’s run at Newbury as to whether his entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup is realistic or not, adding: “If you’re not in, you ain’t got the choice.

“Some of the Gold Cup horses have been bombing out and disappointing. If some of them bomb out on the big day, it would give you a chance of nicking a bit of prize-money.

“There’s some good Irish horses, but if it was just the English horses in the race, I’d fancy us to be placed.

“He’s in the Gold Cup, he’s in the Grand National and he’ll be entered for the same race he won at the Festival last year as well.

“We’ll either be going to be back to that race, which would be great, or if he overperforms on Sunday, then we might look at the Gold Cup, which would be the owner’s dream.”

Bridgwater has high hopes for The Conditional

David Bridgwater expects The Conditional to be even sharper in the Good Luck Hollie In Spoty Silver Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

A Cheltenham Festival winner in March, he was placed in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury for the second successive year on his first outing since his finest hour.

Bridgwater would have preferred to have got a run into him before Newbury, so the fact he ran such a fine race in third behind Cloth Cap bodes well – especially when the trainer does not see the testing conditions as a negative.

“I know he’s favourite, but I leave things like that to the so-called experts. I just get on with the training,” he said.

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“It’s going to be very testing ground, but he won’t mind it. He goes through it well and showed at Newbury that he goes on good ground, too.

“Heading to Newbury he was fit, but he wasn’t hard, race fit. He is now and if he progresses from Newbury and has a clear round then we shouldn’t be too far away, hopefully.

“He’s never run at Ascot before, but I can’t see it being a problem. There’s never a problem with things like that until there is a problem, but I don’t think there will be an issue.”

One horse who certainly has no issue with Ascot is Anthony Honeyball’s veteran Regal Encore.

He may turn 13 in a few weeks and have been competing at a high level since finishing second in the 2013 Champion Bumper to Briar Hill, but he showed first time out this season he is no back number yet.

Regal Encore was winning at Ascot for the fourth time and while he was pulled up in the Ladbrokes Trophy, that can almost be forgotten now he is back at his favourite hunting ground.

Dan Skelton’s Ardlethen was another to run in the Ladbrokes Trophy, finishing sixth, but the Alcester handler believes he will benefit for a return to a softer surface.

“I think a bit slower ground than he encountered at Newbury is better for him,” said Skelton.

“It was a nice run at Newbury. It’s a competitive race, but he goes in soft ground and has got a lower weight than others.

“I think you’ve got to give him some sort of chance, for sure.”

Other interesting contenders are Venetia Williams’ Espoir De Guye, who tries three miles for the first time, Jonjo O’Neill’s Quarenta and Sophie Leech’s French recruit Enfant Roi.

Ascot on agenda for The Conditional

David Bridgwater has next month’s Dave Dawes Silver Cup at Ascot in mind for The Conditional, after he was placed in the Ladbrokes Trophy for the second successive year.

A Cheltenham Festival winner in March, The Conditional was running off a 9lb higher mark on Saturday than 12 months ago but once again ran with great credit – travelling as well as anything for jockey Brendan Powell until the second-last fence when, like everyone, he was left in Cloth Cap’s wake.

Bridgwater has the Grand National in mind for him this season but will not pass up the right opportunity beforehand if he thinks it presents itself.

“It was a good effort – almost a career-best, for the time being anyway,” said Bridgwater.

The Conditional (red hat) jumps the last still in touch with Cloth Cap
The Conditional (red cap) jumps the last still in touch with Cloth Cap (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

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“He was running against good horses who were hard fit, and we’d just had some minor problems – nothing serious, but things that stopped him cantering for a week, which catches up with you in these races.

“He jumped the ditch, and Brendan just felt him go, and he had he blow, but he kept going. I even thought at the second last we were going to win.”

Bridgwater’s previous flag bearer was The Giant Bolster, who finished in the first four in three Cheltenham Gold Cups under Tom Scudamore – Cloth Cap’s jockey at the weekend.

“Tom gave the winner a great ride – he only had 10st and he sprinted away,” said Bridgwater.

“On good ground, they don’t stop in front.”

“If I’m honest Newbury probably doesn’t play to our strengths, because they don’t come back to you, especially when they are ridden by an assassin like Tom Scu!

“At Cheltenham and the stiffer tracks, it’s harder to do what he did – they don’t get away from you as much and they come back. Ours isn’t ungenuine, but I don’t think we want to hit the front two out or anything like that.

“Look, we’d have loved to have won, of course we would, but to finish third, having been second last year – and it was first time out this year – I thought he’d improved physically and I’m looking forward to his next run now.

“I don’t think we’ll go to Warwick. I don’t think that Classic Chase suited us last year – it didn’t work, so why go back? The only time he’ll go beyond three and a quarter miles is if and when he runs in the Grand National.

“He won’t run over hurdles, I’m not into all that – it’s just not cricket for me. There’s a nice race at Ascot on December 19. It’s normally worth £100,000, but it’s £60,000 this year. He’ll have an entry for that, and we’ll see how we get on.

“If you’ve got dozens of horses for these races you can pick and choose. But it was the same when we had the Bolster – we took every race as it comes.”

The Conditional heads 19 in contention for Trophy honours

The Conditional, winner of the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, is among 19 horses confirmed at the five-day stage for the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on Saturday.

Should David Bridgwater’s eight-year-old turn up in Berkshire on Saturday, he could face Kildisart and Vinndication, who finished second and fourth respectively behind him at the Festival.

Vinndication’s trainer Kim Bailey also has Two For Gold left in the prestigious handicap chase over an extended three and a quarter miles.

Trainer Colin Tizzard, who has saddled two of the last four winners, is double-handed with Copperhead and Mister Malarkey.

Paul Nicholls has Secret Investor and Danny Whizzbang as the Ditcheat handler looks to win the race for the fourth time, having also won it as a jockey.

Another trainer with two possible strings to his bow is Anthony Honeyball. The Dorset handler has Regal Encore, third in this race in 2017, and Sam Brown.

Others in the mix include Harriet Graham’s Aye Right, third in the Charlie Hall Chase when the Warren Greatrex-trained La Bague Au Roi was fifth and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Ballyoptic, who tops these weights, was pulled up.

The Conditional taking direct route to Trophy date at Newbury

David Bridgwater hopes The Conditional is still improving as he prepares to try to go one better than last year with victory in this month’s Ladbrokes Trophy.

Bridgwater has deliberately chosen to keep the eight-year-old fresh and head for Newbury’s big handicap first time out.

Twelve months ago, The Conditional had already run twice for Bridgwater following his arrival from Ireland last season, when he outran his odds to finish a close second to De Rasher Counter.

The Conditional (left) had to settle for second in last year's Ladbrokes Trophy
The Conditional (left) had to settle for second in last year’s Ladbrokes Trophy (Nigel French/PA)

The Cotswolds trainer then took him to Warwick in the new year, and believes it was the track rather than a move up to three miles and five furlongs that contributed to his defeat there.

The Conditional concluded his successful campaign with victory at the Cheltenham Festival, in the Ultima Handicap Chase, and Bridgwater is optimistic there should be plenty more to come this season.

“That’s the plan,” he said, confirming a long-term intention to head straight to the Ladbrokes Trophy without a prep run this time.

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“I don’t abuse them anyway – and he goes well fresh.”

Bridgwater reports The Conditional to be thriving after the Covid-19 lockdown provided him with a longer rest than intended since his Festival success in March.

“He’s definitely a bigger, rounder type of horse,” he added.

“When we (first) had him, he was quite a tall and lean horse really.

“But with the summer he’s had out, he’s come back in twice the size.

“Whether that means he’s twice as good, or a little bit better, I don’t know. (But) he’s certainly a different shape anyway.”

David Bridgwater (left) hopes The Conditional can spark more celebrations this season
David Bridgwater (left) hopes The Conditional can spark more celebrations this season (PA)

Bridgwater is convinced another big spring prize was within his grasp, if the pandemic had not intervened.

“After Cheltenham, if racing had continued, we’d have run him again – and he’d have won again, because he’d come forward so much,” he said.

“But racing was shut down, and that was it.”

He also believes that although The Conditional weakened into a well-beaten fifth at Warwick, it was an invaluable learning experience for horse, trainer and jockey Brendan Powell, who was then on board for Festival success.

“If we hadn’t run him at Warwick, we wouldn’t have won at Cheltenham,” he said.

“Brendan and I learned a lot (at Warwick).

“The (longer) trip’s not a problem. (But) the course probably didn’t suit him – the fences come quick, and Brendan was probably asking him a little bit too early, and it was just one of those races that didn’t pan out for us really.

“But I’m glad we ran, because we wouldn’t be where we are now otherwise.”

The Conditional is currently favourite with some bookmakers for the Ladbrokes Trophy after Topofthegame was ruled out for the season.