Coneygree possible for Betfair
Last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree could make his eagerly-awaited return to action in the Betfair Chase at Haydock after connections admitted they were "tempted" to pursue the Jockey Club Chase Triple Crown.
Coneygree: Could return at Haydock
Coneygree, who became the first novice in 41 years to win the blue riband in March 2015, raced just once last season when dismissing two rivals at Sandown in December.
Despite his lengthy absence, Sara Bradstock, wife and assistant to trainer Mark, reports the nine-year-old to be in rude health ahead of his comeback.
"He is in very good form. He did his first piece of proper fast work on Saturday and he feels amazing really," said Bradstock.
"I actually think he's probably in better form than he was this time last year. The injury he had was one of those niggly things that got progressively worse and, in hindsight, I think it's something he probably picked up when he won the Gold Cup.
"He obviously came out and won at Sandown, but looking back, I don't think he jumped as well as can that day, so he was probably feeling something. He obviously wasn't lame or we wouldn't have run.
"The weather is going to play a big part in where we start off as I don't think we'd even think about running him on good ground, it would need to be on the slow side of good.
"We are tempted by the bonus, so it could be that we wait until the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
"If the ground came we might think about the Charlie Hall. We'll probably enter him at Wetherby and see how it looks, but the worry would be it comes close enough to Haydock.
"Unfortunately there aren't any easy options for horses like him. I'd like be able to get a nice, easy win into him somewhere.
"In the Michael Dickinson days horses could run in an open handicap, face a couple of other horses and be 1-10, but there aren't races like that nowadays.
"The thing about Coneygree is, because of his style of racing, anything that runs against him, is going to have a hard race.
"That's why we couldn't understand all the rubbish that was talked when people were questioning whether we should run in the Gold Cup. He was only going to do his usual thing whichever race he ran in and he didn't know what the race was called."
She went on: "We'll see what happens in the next month or so, but the most likely scenario is we'll give him a racecourse gallop somewhere and then go to Haydock.
"I feel every step he takes, so we'll see how he's feeling nearer the time and let him tell us what he wants to do."
With last season's winner Don Cossack sidelined until at last the new year, the Gold Cup market for this term is wide-open, with Coneygree a general 12-1 shot to regain his crown.
Favourite with some bookmakers is Colin Tizzard's all-conquering staying hurdler Thistlecrack, despite the fact he has not yet made a competitive appearance over fences.
Bradstock said: "It's going to be interesting, that's for sure.
"I think Don Cossack might have beaten us in the Gold Cup last season, purely because the ground was so quick. He's obviously out of action at the moment and I just hope they don't have the ground like that again (at Cheltenham).
"I love the idea they've got Thistlecrack as favourite when he hasn't even jumped a fence. I think we've all been drawn in to believing he's the next Big Buck's, but he's not yet.
"He's rated 174 over hurdles, we're 172 over fences, but I would like to think Thistlecrack would need to improve for jumping a fence to be beating us.
"Maybe I'm being optimistic and he'll end up being the next Arkle, but I don't think we've got anything to be frightened of and I can't wait to start.
"Max (Coneygree) and I have trod many miles together since last Christmas, I would guess hundreds of miles.
"He is in very good order at the moment. I keep saying he's got to win another Gold Cup because I can't remember the first one – we've obviously watched the race back many times, but I honestly can't remember watching it live as I was in such a flap!"
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