Bradstock ups Cue Card ante
With just over a fortnight to go ahead of the the 32Red.com King George VI Chase, Sara Bradstock injected a new talking point or two into the pre-race build-up on Monday when calling into question the readiness of Thistlecrack for the challenge of the racing highlight of the Christmas period.
Coneygree is in very good form ahead of Boxing Day
The clash between the Bradstock-trained 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree and Colin Tizzard's Cue Card and Thistlecrack could become the most-anticipated race of the season so far if all of the big names turn up.
Coneygree recently proved no match for Cue Card on his first start for more than a year in Haydock's Betfair Chase and Bradstock said that while she was hopeful of reversing those placings at Kempton if both horses took their chance, she was full of admiration for Cue Card's achievements.
On the other hand, while equally respectful of Cue Card's Thistlecrack, the undisputed champion staying hurdler of last season but a veteran of just two small-field novice chases to this point, Bradstock said she was unable to imagine Thistlecrack figuring in the finish of such a competitive contest.
Bradstock, who also all but ruled out a possible tilt at the Lexus Chase as an alternative to the King George, was speaking at a 32Red-organised media event in London on Monday.
Asked how he had come out of the Betfair Chase, Bradstock described the horse's response to such a hard race in testing conditions as "absolutely extraordinary".
"I think when we thought over it afterwards we were completely pleased. The reason for getting beaten is that he didn't really get into full speed.
"At Kempton they keep going, at Haydock they just always sprint off the bend a little bit. He has bottomless stamina. Nothing makes him tired, but because he had to sprint with Cue Card off that bend, he got fatigued, albeit momentarily.
"He feels really good since he came back from Haydock. He feels very, very, very good, but what he also feels is that when we worked him on grass that is walking good, he just finds it fast. We've still only been able to work him on grass maybe twice this year."
"Thistlecrack has got to the other side because he is a beautiful, very talented and athletic horse, but he's jumping them rather than racing them. He'll learn but it's going to be a tough order to go a Coneygree-type of pace and jump."
Sara Bradstock on Thistlecrack
Bradstock, who is hoping for rain in the build-up to Boxing Day, laid out her stall in terms of tactics.
"I'm very aware that we lack a turn of foot," she said. "If we allow it to become a sprint… If Cue Card comes up behind us cruising, he's going to beat us. We've got to make Cue Card have to try to get to us. If you see Cue Card pushing to get to us, I am very optimistic we will beat him.
"That's what this whole wonder-family are. They love to race, they love to gallop, they keep galloping. But if anything with a turn of foot is allowed to queue up behind him, we're in trouble."
However it was her views on Thistlecrack's potential challenge that raised most interest, with Bradstock drawing comparisons between the horse and Coneygree, who won the Gold Cup as a novice, but who lined up in what is now the Kauto Star Chase on the same card rather than tackle more experienced opposition in the King George.
"Far be it from me to make any judgement on other people's horses but I can honestly say and I'm going to say it – I'm very frightened of Cue Card and I'm not frightened of Thistlecrack," she said.
"Because we won the Gold Cup as a novice everyone thinks it's possible and it wasn't before then if you remember – it was totally impossible. The point about our horse is his focus and his jumping.
"Thistlecrack has got to the other side of his fences because he is a beautiful, very talented and very athletic horse, but he is still getting in the air, he's still jumping them rather than racing them, to me. He'll learn, and I'm sure he will, but it's going to be a tough order to go a Coneygree-type of pace and jump.
"I don't think we'll get him out of his galloping comfort zone, because that is limitless, but out of his jumping comfort zone. At Cheltenham when he suddenly got frightened at the open ditch and launched at it that was because someone had taken him on. It's very different for horses to go in what's their half-speed and jump and then go as fast as they can and jump and that's what they've got to do to win a top, top race. He's brilliant, I'm sure, but he hasn't had to do that yet.
"If you remember when he [Coneygree] won the Feltham, from the back straight on to the stands, he was being taken on by a horse who eventually fell.
"Everything goes to pieces [against him]. It is a very special ability to go as fast as his long legs will carry him and still to get from one side of the fence without it being any form of inconvenience – he doesn't have to take an extra breath and go 'Woah, I've got to get over this fence', he just does it."
Set alongside Bradstock's optimism, there were only two negative pieces of news in counter-balance for Coneygree's supporters.
Namely, that the unusually dry weather has so limited opportunities to get on the grass, other than regular canters, but also that rain is required to reach Kempton in the days ahead.
"I don't want it heavy, but I want it really on the easy side," she said. "The clerk of the course could really call it good and we'd have to think about running him. Good to soft or soft is our ideal."