Coneygree’s top class is confirmed

Coneygree ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville after winning the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Coneygree ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville after winning the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
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Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree is this century’s best novice chaser over any distance, according to horse racing’s chief handicapper Phil Smith.

He has given Sara and Mark Bradstock’s stable star, bred by the late Lord Oaksey, an official rating of 172 – three pounds more than the rating allotted to two-mile steeplechasing superstar Sprinter Sacre in his Arkle-winning season in 2012-13.

It further vindicates the decision of the Bradstock team to bypass the RSA Chase, Cheltenham’s premier race for three-mile novice chasers, and reach for the stars with their home-bred horse on just his fourth start over larger obstacles.

However, while the rain-softened ground was clearly a factor in persuading connections to line up in the Gold Cup and become the first novice to win the blue riband race in more than 40 years, the British Horseracing Authority’s head of handicapping clearly holds Coneygree in the highest of regards after the eight-year-old led from pillar to post under ice-cool jockey Nico de Boinville.

“In the 2012 Arkle, Sprinter Sacre attained a mark of 169 by his comfortable seven-length win over Cue Card and a small but very select field on only his fourth-ever chase, making him the highest-rated novice this century,” explained Smith.

“Surprisingly Sprinter Sacre’s record novice rating only lasted three years as Vautour’s romp in the JLT Novices’ Chase on Thursday has been assessed at 171. Vautour was the easiest of all of the (Willie) Mullins victories and looks a fantastic prospect for next season.

“Amazingly Vautour was only king for a day as just over 24 hours later Coneygree posted a remarkable mark of 172 when winning the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, making him the highest-rated novice chaser over any distance this century.

“As in his previous wins, Coneygree’s time was particularly quick and he never saw another horse.

“There were some raised eyebrows when I assessed him at 166 after his win in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury, making him a higher-rated novice than the great Denman himself. There will be very few observers disagreeing now.”

Meanwhile, Sire De Grugy will make just one more appearance this season at either Aintree, Punchestown or Sandown after losing his crown in last week’s Queen Mother Champion Chase.

As for Ladbrokes World Hurdle winner Cole Harden, who came to prominence at Wetherby last autumn, his jockey Gavin Sheehan expects the horse to reappear in Aintree’s Crabbie’s Grand National meeting.

However, Sandy Thomson’s Seeyouatmidnight, which ran with credit behind Cole Harden before fading, is likely to head across the Irish Sea to Punchestown next month.

Michael Scudamore’s National hope Monbeg Dude – co-owned by rugby players Mike Tindall, James Simpson-Daniel and Nicky Robinson – is to undergo tests 
after a lacklustre run.

“We’re doing a few tests to see what comes back,” said Scudamore. “One idea is maybe he didn’t like having the tongue strap on, but he has come back bright and happy in himself.

“For whatever reason he just did not perform on the day. The National is still the option as long as he’s okay.”

Meanwhile, Scudamore’s Festival winner Next Sensation, who won Friday’s finale under his brother Tom, could now be heading to Ayr’s Scottish National meeting.

John Quinn’s 2000 Guineas hopeful The Wow Signal may have a racecourse gallop at Wetherby on week on Friday as he prepares for his return to action in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury on April 18.

An impressive winner of the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, he proved that was no fluke by winning the Prix Morny at Deauville.

“I’m pleased with him, he’s strengthened up just like you’d expect,” said the Malton handler.