The much-anticipated return of Coneygree is set to take place at Haydock on Saturday, though there remains a question mark over who will be on-board the 2015 Gold Cup winner.
Nico de Boinville’s ill-timed injury, when falling and breaking an arm at Cheltenham last weekend, has presented a rather exciting opportunity to Richard Johnson or Aidan Coleman. Johnson is first choice, with Mark Bradstock saying on Monday: “He'll ride him if he's available and we're just waiting to hear. When we get the nod, he'll come in and give him a jump. I know there's a big race at Ascot which I haven't seen the entries for, but fingers crossed he'll come.”
The ‘big race’ at Ascot is the Stella Artois 1965 Chase, with Garde La Victoire and Royal Regatta both entered for Philip Hobbs. The Somerset trainer also has Menorah as a possible runner in the Betfair, though rain during the week may have scuppered those plans. Hobbs told the Daily Mail: “It will be a Thursday morning decision - the 48-hour declaration stage for the Betfair Chase. We won't know until then. It depends on the weather.”
Whichever jockey gets the nod, the tactics look assured, with Bradstock stating earlier in the week: “It's wonderful to have him back, and hopefully he can build and build and build. I imagine he will go off in front and any softening in conditions will be a help rather than a hindrance. He never looks impressive in his work here, but he has this extraordinarily deceptive gallop that we saw to best effect when he annihilated some decent handicappers in the Denman Chase at Newbury.”
The trainer went on: “We took him to Haydock for a proper gallop over two miles with a young horse and then old Carruthers jumped in for the last three to four furlongs. It's been so dry with us that it was his first work on grass since he came back in. He's only run 11 times in his life and has only been beaten twice. Furthermore, he does tend to go well fresh from a break, as he showed when winning at Uttoxeter in successive seasons.”
The vibes are certainly positive, with Bradstock highlighting the £1million bonus put up by Jockey Club Racecourses as a realistic target, when adding: “Hopefully after Saturday it will be the King George, followed by the Denman Chase and then the Gold Cup. There is also the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham, but it comes closer to Kempton than Newbury.”
Cue Card took Haydock’s showpiece last year and is likely to go off favourite. Colin Tizzard’s team have been in sparkling form, and the King George hero is reportedly sure to strip fitter than on debut at Wetherby. Coneygree’s running style may well set the race up for a strong traveller such as Cue Card, though Bradstock’s fella may have competition up front from another mud-lover, Seeyouatmidnight.
Sandy Thomson’s eight-year-old was mightily impressive on his seasonal debut at Carlisle, when accounting for Bristol De Mai. His jumping was wonderfully slick on that occasion, and he’s as short as 7/1 for Saturday’s renewal. The prospect of him and Coneygree going head to head from the off is an exciting one. And should the latter show any signs of ring-rust, a tussle for the lead could again play into the hands of those ‘sitting in’ just off the pace.
With conditions set to become testing, the prospect of Irish Cavalier repeating his Charlie Hall success look to be slim. His best form has come on a sounder surface, and there were doubts that he would see-out the trip at Wetherby. Soft or even heavy ground on Saturday would certainly test his stamina to the limit.
Tom George has had a terrific start to the campaign, but the weather has likely put paid to any chance of God’s Own attempting the three-mile trip. A fast finishing second in the Old Roan at Aintree last time, it would have been intriguing to see how he coped with the step-up in distance. He’s undoubtedly a better horse on a sounder surface, and possibly better going right-handed. He now seems sure to head to Ascot for the Grade 2 Stella Artois. And if impressive there, it would come as no surprise to see him take his chance in the King George over Christmas.
Silviniaco Conti looks sure to take his chance in a race that he has twice been successful. The track and trip are ideal, with ground conditions also set to be in his favour. He was soundly beaten by Valseur Lido on his return, though is sure to improve plenty for the outing. He was no match for Cue Card in this race 12 months ago, but should Tizzard’s star underperform, he could well be the one to take advantage.