CONEYGREE became the first novice to strike for 41 years when making most of the running in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The eight-year-old, trained by Mark Bradstock and ridden by Nico de Boinville, took the blue riband prize of steeplechasing on only his fourth race over fences. The success fully vindicated the decision to bypass the RSA Chase earlier in the week and run in the Gold Cup instead.
Coneygree (7-1) held on up the hill by a length and a half from Djakadam (10-1), with Road To Riches (8-1) two lengths away in third.
De Boinville said: “It’s the best feeling ever, I’m lost for words.
“I never thought they shouldn’t have run in this, it was a great plan. The weather gods were looking down on us and the ground was ideal.
“He’s so deceptive, even when he gets in tight he’s brilliant, it’s all thanks to the Bradstock family, it’s a great family effort.
“I must thank the owners and the Bradstocks for keeping the faith in me. These horses only come once in a lifetime.”
Sara Bradstock, wife of the winning trainer and daughter of the late Lord Oaksey, who bred Coneygree, said: “He [Lord Oaksey] is not here, but he’s here in spirit. I’d been saying to people, when we win the Gold Cup we’ll win the lottery, it’s that amazing.” Rich Ricci, owner of the Willie Mullins-trained Djakadam, said: “He’s run a stormer, I thought we had him but fair play to the winner, to run in this race as a novice and to do that from the front was spectacular.
“He’ll be back next year. We’ve had a great week.”
His rider Ruby Walsh said: “He’s run a blinder. He made a few little jumping errors, but he’s run a blinder for a six-year-old. He stuck his head out and gave me everything he had.”
Mullins said: “We had a fantastic run and I was just commending the winner’s brave decision to run in the Gold Cup. It paid off and the winner did it the hard way in front.
“I was delighted with my horse. He ran well.”
Noel Meade said of Road To Riches: “He ran a great race. We’re delighted and disappointed. What other way can you be?
“We thought we had a chance at the last. It’s possible the ground was a disadvantage to us. Maybe it wasn’t, but we think it might have been.”
Richie McLernon, rider of fourth home Holywell, said: “He stays all day and you can’t ask any more. He gave me his all today.”
Paul Nicholls, trainer of the vanquished favourite Silviniaco Conti, who was seventh, said: “Noel [Fehily] is not really sure. My view is that the ground might have been deep enough for him. It was a bit more testing than we thought.
“Watching that I suppose he is better on a flatter track on better ground. If he’s fresh and well we’ll probably head to Aintree with him now.”
Tony McCoy was ninth on Carlingford Lough in what was his final ride in the Gold Cup before retirement.
The 19-times champion said: “I knew when we got here this morning we were in trouble. He’s a horse that likes good ground and, for a horse that’s slow but has a bit of speed at the end of his race, he doesn’t like it when it turns into a drag.”
Mags Mullins saddled her first Festival winner when Martello Tower came out top in a gruelling battle for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
In another race dominated by Irish raiders, Martello Tower (14-1) ground out victory for owner Barry Connell and his retained jockey Adrian Heskin. Martello Tower took the lead from long-time leader Milsean, ridden by the winning trainer’s son, Danny, who used to be Connell’s number one. There was just half a length between them at the line, with No More Heroes a length away in third.
On The Fringe stormed clear in the closing stages to run out an impressive victor of the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup.
Nina Carberry was content to bide her time for most of the extended three-and-a-quarter-mile trip as Carsonstown Boy helped set the pace, until bringing the Enda Bolger-trained 10-year-old into contention two out. Once Carberry pressed the button the race was as good as over, with On The Fringe (6-1), owned by J P McManus, putting daylight between himself and the opposition. He galloped to glory by 17 lengths from Following Dreams (50-1). Paint The Clouds, the 11-4 favourite, was another neck away.
• Britain defeated Ireland 14-13 in the BetBright Cup for most wins.
• Willie Mullins took top trainer award with a jaw-dropping eight winners.
• Ruby Walsh again scooped leading jockey gong with four winners.
• Bookmakers claim to have just got their noses in front after a bruising start to the week. Shock horror!
• It seems only right and proper that Tony McCoy should have the final word:
“It has only just hit me that I won’t be riding here again, and that’s tough,” said the champ, who was a winner on Uxizandre in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday
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