RACING needs a lift. It’s been a fairly dark fortnight for the sport, what with Freddy Tylicki, Vautour and Simonsig creating the sort of headlines we dread. Not to mention a tabloid splash about an alleged gang assault involving jockeys. We need a boost, a clash to set the pulse racing and lift the spirits. And maybe this Saturday could be the day in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
It looks like a shoot-out between two chasing heavyweights: Coneygree vs Cue Card. One is a former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner who has never lost over fences; the other is the horse who would have won a Gold Cup if he had stayed on his feet. Coneygree will be ridden by Richard Johnson in the absence of the injured Nico De Boinville while Paddy Brennan will continue his fruitful association with Cue Card.
The latter was turned over when favourite in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby on his reappearance but I thought he ran a solid race and certainly travelled like the winner for such a long way. Colin Tizzard chastised himself afterwards for deploying the wrong tactics and telling Brennan to take it up early on the bold-jumping 10 year old.
But one can only expect Cue Card to improve and be spot on for this, a race which he won convincingly last season.
Coneygree, who has only had 11 starts, including nine victories, during his career to date, was taken up to Haydock on November 9 for a two-mile gallop on grass.
Trainer Mark Bradstock said: “It is going to be quite an ask for him on Saturday after having a year off but we are looking forward to it.
“Coneygree had recuperation, standing in his box and then progressed to leading out. He was then ridden out and the rehabilitation is now complete. It has been frustrating and depressing, not just for us but for his owners, Nico (de Boinville) and everybody.
“He is a pretty cool horse. Luckily, his owners are very patient. I have a wife who spends more time looking after Coneygree than she does me! He has done plenty of work and had a very good preparation because he did not have a complete holiday out in the field. Sure, one would have liked to gallop him more often on grass but apart from that he is in great nick. Hopefully, he will do himself justice.
“Coneygree has a very, very deceptive gallop. If you stand and watch him on the gallops, he is not a wow factor. But you sit and try and follow him, he has this extraordinary and relentless gallop that he can go, which was seen in the Denman and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.”
Wife Sara said: “It is wonderful that Coneygree is going to race at Haydock and our intention is to win. The instructions to the jockey will be to ride him to win but, if he does get tired, to look after him.
“He has done 99 per cent of his work on an artificial surface and I only wish we could have got him out on grass more often but the weather has been against us.”
Coneygree, you would expect, will need the run and that could be his undoing on Saturday when the race hots up over the last half mile. So it’s Brennan and CUE CARD for me this weekend but I hope we get a clash that befits a race of this stature and that makes the sort of positive headlines that we want to see.