The 2015 Cheltenham horse racing festival may have been dominated by the performance of legendary Irishman Willie Mullins in training eight winners and by the final appearance of Tony McCoy at the prestigious annual meeting, but it was also noteworthy for the success of Coneygree in the coveted Cheltenham Gold Cup and a victory for a smaller stable amongst some of the more powerful yards.
After Willie Mullins had triumphed with Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle on the opening day of the festival alongside Un de Sceaux winning the Arkle Trophy, Paul Nicholls secured the Queen Mother Two Mile Champion Chase on the following day with Dodging Bullets and he saddled two other winners on Wednesday.
It appeared that the meeting would, once again, act as a showcase for the large stables of Mullins, Nicholls and Nicky Henderson to the detriment of the smaller operations hoping for that one elusive winner at the festival. However, when Cole Harden won the World Hurdle on Thursday to provide trainer Warren Greatrix with his first winner at the March championships, it was a case of his horse denying the Nicholls pair of Saphir Du Rheu and Zarkandar by leading for most of the three miles distance.
A similar story could also be told about the Cheltenham Gold Cup victory of Coneygree who adopted front running tactics in the rain-softened ground to beat two well-fancied Irish contenders Djakadam and Road To Riches. Few horses were able to match the demanding pace of the winner and the trainer-jockey combination of Mark Bradstock and Nico De Boinville were able to celebrate their first ever victory in the race with well beaten pre-race favourite Silviniaco Conti, trained by Nicholls, failing again to win at Cheltenham.
Yet Coneygree had only raced over fences on three previous occasions and was officially classed as a novice chaser having suffered from a pelvis injury which curtailed his racing career for nearly two years. He had been nursed back to health by Mark and Sara Bradstock at their stable at Wantage and had even been considered as a contender for the RSA Novice Chase on Wednesday given his relative lack of experience over the larger obstacles.
However, the bravery and stamina of the horse proved to be the key ingredients of his win on Friday and it is hoped that his fragile frame will recover sufficiently to allow him to defend his crown at the meeting next season when he could face the exciting Willie Mullins pair Don Poli and Vautour, who showed real class in winning two of the novice chases this week.
Coneygree is still only eight years old and capable of further success as a steeplechaser, but his success also proves that the less well-known stables can still secure the big prizes in horse racing and so maintain a decent level of competition within the sport.
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