On the verge of something special
Along with understandable disappointment at the loss of the local bus service, the minutes of the parish council's last meeting bemoan a reduction in the council's cutting of the grass verges in Letcombe Bassett to just once a year. Happily, Sara Bradstock has a four-legged solution.
Coneygree and Sara Bradstock take a stroll along Holborn Hill in Letcombe Bassett. (Photo: Will Hayler)
Tradition at these carefully-organised media events is that the horse is first paraded (or sometimes worked) in front of the cameras, then immediately wrapped back up in cotton wool, while the trainer gives a series of interviews in which the same answers are often politely given to the same questions. The sponsors and the racecourse go home happy, and the media and broadcasters barely have to break sweat in order to get a half-decent piece to keep their employers satisfied.
That's the usual way of doing things, but the Bradstocks don't do usual.
After posing for a few pictures and conducting one interview for local television, Sara Bradstock is not about to break her favoured daily routine. Taking Coneygree by the bridle, she walks out of the front gate and heads off for their regular stroll around the village.
When her husband, Mark – left behind to do a series of interviews in which he appears to be a friendly and affable but not over-enthusiastic participant – says that Sara loves the horse more than him, it's not just one of those things people say.
Nearly an hour later, Sara Bradstock can be found, about a mile from the yard, halfway to Childrey along the B4001. Outside a pair of grey semi-detached houses, the Gold Cup winner is munching away on the same grass verges causing the council concern. It's only when he dives in for a mouthful of the rose bush over someone's front wall that his handler steps in with a gentle admonishment.
Bradstock says she does this every day. Coneygree has a patch of lucky grass opposite the small triangle with the wooden bench that denotes the central apex of the three streets that make up the village. When she forgot to take Coneygree for a bite to eat there, his winning sequence came to end at Cheltenham. She won't make that mistake again.
Both Bradstocks are engaging to listen to. The highlight of Mark's interviews come when he admits that the £1million carrot offered by Jockey Club Racecourses to any horse winning the Betfair Chase, the 32Red King George VI Chase and the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup is "not to be sniffed at" and will inevitably tilt them towards running at Kempton over Christmas rather than the alternative of the Lexus Chase.
"I mean, just say you won the Haydock race and the Gold Cup and you hadn't gone to Kempton?" he ventures. "You'd look a bit of a dick, wouldn't you?"
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Being a Gold Cup-winning trainer has changed nothing, he says. They got no more horses out of it – their total of 15 includes a couple of show-jumpers trained by daughter, Lily – and it's not through want of trying, he insists.
"We have tried to advertise ourselves and we'll keep trying, you know?" he explains. "We'd love to have more horses. But we've got a nice batch for this season and we've some tremendous owners too."
Also feeling optimistic, albeit a mile down the road, is Sara, who loves watching Coneygree – Max, as she calls him – work his way through more of the Oxfordshire grass mountain.
"I had an argument with a driver the other day who was going way too fast and I told him as much, " she says. "He wound down his window, told me off for having a horse in the road, and said 'Do you know how much this car is worth?'. I said 'Do you know how much this horse is worth?'. He was never going to win that argument."
As she talks, Coneygree just keeps on eating. Eating and eating.
"It's the most natural thing in the world for horses," says Bradstock. "A horse can't ever eat too much grass. He is just relaxing, doing what nature tells him to do."
She describes Coneygree has being like a grasshopper.
"The secret of him is his very long back legs," she says. "They are his pistons.
"Watch a replay of him coming up the Cheltenham hill. His hocks are coming up past his knees. They are his secret and his fragility as the strain is enormous.
"The other thing about him is his will to win. I do genuinely think he is like an equine AP. He has the ability and that focus to just go out and do it."
Conditions are likely to be testing for the Betfair Chase Haydock on Saturday, with plenty of rain forecast, and the likes of Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti won't want to give him too much rope in front having seen what he can do when allowed to dominate in the past.
It will be some feat for him make a successful return from injury in the race.
But it is only when the tapes go up that we'll know exactly how much spring remains in the grasshopper's legs.
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