Coneygree: nearing a return to actionPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Coneygree camp hoping speed could prove key
SARA BRADSTOCK is hoping the "blistering pace" set by Coneygree could be enough to blunt the acceleration of Sizing John should the Gold Cup heroes go head to head at Punchestown next month.
Coneygree has raced just twice since capturing the sport's premier prize as a novice two seasons ago and has not competed since filling the runner-up berth behind Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November.
Connections believe that performance was hindered by a minor stress fracture sustained in the race and expect to see an improved display if the ten-year-old takes on Sizing John in the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup on April 26. Bookmakers make Coneygree a best-priced 13-2 behind the Jessica Harrington-trained 5-4 favourite.
"It will be interesting to see if our blistering pace can take the speed off Sizing John," said Sara Bradstock, wife of Coneygree trainer Mark Bradstock.
"He will either sprint past us or he won't. We're definitely hopeful, though. When everything has been right, Coneygree has been able to out-gallop most horses and there's no suggestion at all he is not as good as when he won the Gold Cup. He may be ten but there are no miles on his clock and he retains all his enthusiasm.
Sizing John: could clash with Coneygree at PunchestownPICTURE: Getty Images
"It's very difficult to know how good this year's Gold Cup was as it was full of so many new faces. Sizing John was a two-miler who beat a horse who used to be a four-miler in Minella Rocco. It's a bit of a muddle. Sizing John could be the next wonder horse or it could be that this year's Gold Cup was a very ordinary race.
"We need to beat the Irish on Irish soil as they beat the British horses on British soil at Cheltenham."
Giving an update on Coneygree's progress, Bradstock added: "All is well. He did his first proper swinging canter on Wednesday and he feels great.
"I'm hoping and praying we're on target for Punchestown, but it's tight enough as we're only just moving into fast work. We don't need a blip and we don't take risks with him.
"We now know at Haydock he probably did suffer the small stress fracture under his knee and I don't think he got into top gear there for that reason."
Nico de Boinville will be aboard Coneygree if he makes it to Ireland but his availability for key races next season could depend on plans for the jockey's RSA Chase winner Might Bite, who scored at Cheltenham despite veering across the track after the final fence.
"Might Bite has to iron out his quirks if he's going to take on the big guys but he did look very good at Chetenham,"said Bradstock.
"He looked like a young Coneygree really - but, happily, Coneygree doesn't try to duck out at the gate. He is obviously massively talented. My biggest worry about him is he might take Nico off our horse."