Cheltenham Festival 2015: Battle against odds led to Coneygree's Gold Cup triumph

The start of his chasing career was held back by a season when he jumped on a flint and injured his hind tendons

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Anyone who wonders what it is like when the seemingly impossible happens at Cheltenham needed only to have been in a supermarket near the Gold Cup winning Coneygree’s stables, in Letcombe Bassett, Oxfordshire, on Friday evening.

The winning Bradstock family had headed there to ship in some champagne for their hastily organised after-party. “Been at the races? Won some money?” they were asked at the check-out and when no-one believed their story, they fetched the Gold Cup from the car. It was quite some photograph session.

The modesty of the party revealed just what a Corinthian story this has been: only 35 people – and the Gold Cup itself on the kitchen table, surrounded by pizza boxes and general chaos. They watched the race over and over again, with cheers of joy each time the gallant eight-year-old crossed the line, becoming the first novice to win the race since 1974.

The trainers have never doubted this home-bred horse’s ability, in spite of the many doubters. “People forget that he was a very, very good hurdler,” said trainer Mark Bradstock. But the inside story of Coneygree also reveals the fragility attached to such success.

 

The start of his chasing career was held back by a season when he jumped on a flint and injured his hind tendons while being ridden out. “In hindsight, it was probably no bad thing as he definitely came back a much stronger individual,” Bradstock says.

The horse’s stable used to be in the Bradstocks’ front yard, where visitors drove in and out. The family could see he was unsettled and anxious, always walking around his quarters. They moved him to the back of the yard and found he was better able to switch off and be comfortable. Such are the benefits of a small intimate set-up like this.

The team effort that has gone into Friday’s victory is remarkable. Bradstock’s wife, Sara, has suffered from numerous lung failures after undergoing a tracheotomy, yet rides Coneygree every day.

Their daughter, Lily, sometimes has to ride the horse in the evenings to ensure he gets the work he needs. Alfie, their  son, finds time to school him over showjumps, to improve his accuracy and speed through the air, alongside his full-time job as a showjumper.

In 2008, Lily was kicked by a horse and suffered nerve damage to her leg. The pain was so severe that doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital feared that she may be bound to a wheelchair for life. “I was pushing her around Cheltenham in a wheelchair two years ago,” explains Bradstock. “Because it was nerve damage, even a raindrop on her leg was enough to send her through the roof.”

Seven years and three major operations after the accident, she has ridden for Great Britain, and was instrumental in the preparation of Coneygree. Few realised the significance of 18-year-old Lily leading up Coneygree both before and after the race.

It is all hands to the pumps when it comes to security, too. Bradstock slept in a caravan outside Coneygree’s stable for five nights leading up to the Gold Cup. It is safe to assume that bigger yards can easily afford to hire the required security.

But this was a triumph for a small yard – and a special family.

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