Coneygree puts connections through the mill again with evening visit to vet
Lee Mottershead on the latest dramatic chapter in the Gold Cup hero's career
For the connections of Coneygree, the outstandingly popular chaser's trip to Punchestown became another emotional rollercoaster ride. With the horse they adore, that is what they have come to expect. He is, however, so very worth it.
While still on a euphoric high following the 2015 Gold Cup hero's valiant return from his latest injury setback, the Bradstocks noticed something clearly not right with one of his seemingly ever vulnerable legs. They feared the worst and embarked on an evening drive across Kildare to a veterinary clinic.
On Friday morning Coneygree will be on the road again, thankfully still in one piece and heading home with an exciting new season on his horizon.
"We were a bit worried last night," admitted trainer Mark Bradstock on Thursday. "When we were washing him down in the stables we suddenly saw quite a large swelling had appeared on his near-hind leg. We took him to one of the vets on the Curragh as a precaution. They x-rayed him this morning and luckily, touch wood, everything is fine.
"He probably just knocked himself, maybe at the second-last, but there doesn't appear to be anything wrong. He's sound, which is really good news. He has put us through the mill – but it's not the first time he's done that to us!"
In what was his first race since November – and only his third since that famous Cheltenham triumph – the ten-year-old was marginally in front of Sizing John and Djakadam having stretched his top-class rivals by deploying typically aggressive front-running tactics.
A momentum-sapping thwack of that penultimate fence must have drained the Letcombe Bassett raider, but he came back for more under Nico de Boinville, only to then blunder slightly at the final jumping test.
His continued rallying was in vain, but if anyone doubted Coneygree remains a force at the highest level, they are doubting no longer.
"I thought it was an incredible performance," said Bradstock, whose wife Sara rides Coneygree at home.
"As always, I was terrible during the race. I'm much worse than Sara in that regard. I was pacing up and down and box walking while chain-smoking.
"I still haven't studied the replay but I do think that mistake two out made the difference. He virtually came to a grinding halt – and he probably only made the mistake because the ground was too fast for him.
"The wonderful thing is he was so full of himself. It was great to see all that enthusiasm. Even going down to the start he was trying to yank the reins out of Nico's hands."
"We may well look towards Newbury," added Bradstock, whose team made a brave call in sending Coneygree to Ireland. The bravery was not rewarded with a win but with the confirmation they continue to have an extremely special horse, one whose presence was indisputably a vital ingredient in a race to remember.
"People were constantly coming up to me at the races yesterday, saying they were so pleased he was at Punchestown," added Bradstock.
"We're now going home on Friday morning because the vets wanted to keep him for an extra 24 hours as a precaution. After that he'll have a nice summer holiday. However, I'm hoping because we've had such a dry winter and spring that we now get a very wet summer. That way, come the autumn we could more easily plan a campaign.
"It's frustrating we haven't been able to get him to the racecourse more regularly. We want to show people what he's like. He really is a very talented horse. In every possible way it's great to be involved with him."
It is also great to watch him. Granted some of the luck Coneygree has seldom enjoyed in the past, we may yet have many more chances to watch him in the future.