Your typical Cheltenham Gold Cup celebration would not involve spending pointless hours in a horsebox, slogging 120 miles in one direction, turning around and almost immediately retracing your steps. But that was how it panned out for Mark Bradstock, the trainer of Coneygree, the novice sensation which landed jumping's most prestigious prize on Friday.
That was a huge, potentially life-changing moment for him but, with his wife, Sara, he runs a hands-on operation at their Letcombe Bassett yard and simply does not employ enough people to allow him to just drop everything and focus on having a good time. Instead, having earmarked yesterday's Midlands Grand National as a good opportunity for Carruthers, a half-brother to Coneygree, he brought him to Uttoxeter.
Carruthers has had his moments, like winning the Hennessy and running fourth in the Gold Cup five years ago, and doubtless some fancied him to complete a fairytale double for the stable with "eight to 10" horses. But Bradstock did not appear to want to push his luck. Having assessed the state of the (very testing) ground, he decided it would not suit. Back he went to Letcombe Bassett, Carruthers doubtless wondering what was happening.
In the brief time he was at the Staffordshire track, Bradstock engaged briefly with media inquiries about his horse and what it had been like to win the Gold Cup. "Magical," he replied, looking as if there had been plentiful celebration at some point. "Sorry, my voice isn't great but my head's even worse."
Coneygree, he reported, was "really good", "mad for it", "fresh as paint" and "absolutely pulling us all round the yard. We had Channel 4 this morning and he wouldn't stand still."
"I don't think he had a particularly hard race," Bradstock remarked, though he had no doubt that the horse has done enough for the season and will now be given a summer at grass before being brought back for some autumn target. As to what that will be, he was less clear. "The plans at this very moment are to try to get rid of my hangover."
Rather more detail had been offered earlier by Sara, suggesting that the King George VI Chase on St Stephen's Day was a certain target, with a choice of prep races. "Although I'm not mad on Haydock, we will look at the Betfair Chase before Kempton, but there's a possibility we might try to win the Hennessy (at Newbury) off top weight."
From the distance of nine months, that King George could provide one of the most anticipated clashes in recent racing history, since the bookmakers have Coneygree paired as joint-favourite on 5/1 with Vautour, such a sensationally impressive winner of the JLT at the Festival. A point bigger than them is Silviniaco Conti, stuffed in Friday's Gold Cup but the winner of the last two King Georges and a horse which might raise rather more of a challenge at Kempton than at Cheltenham.
Nico de Boinville can savour such possibilities, having had the Bradstocks commit to him as Coneygree's jockey once more in the wake of their Gold Cup success. It is a bare fortnight since De Boinville stopped being a claiming jockey and many another trainer would have been tempted to bring in a bigger name. But then De Boinville is reckoned by astute judges to have made remarkable progress from an unpolished state in the past two years and the Bradstocks alone have benefited to the tune of five winners this season. He resisted celebration on Friday night, since he was expecting to ride Carruthers at Uttoxeter, making him another member of the party who had to return home without seeing action.
"I'm still letting it all set in," he said in the weighing room, when still expecting to be part of the Midlands National. Asked what Gold Cup success might do for him, he said: "Probably not much. We'll see what my agent can pull out of the bag. You're very reliant on the trainers who are loyal to you and that you've established those connections with throughout your claim. I'll be loyal to them and hopefully that's reciprocated."
Trainers of two of the beaten horses from the Gold Cup were at Uttoxeter and, in the case of Oliver Sherwood, still trying to puzzle out what had gone wrong. His Many Clouds, sent off at the same 7/1 odds as the winner, finished sixth, beaten 25 lengths. "He's run flat," Sherwood said. "He's better than that, I know he is."
He seems fine. We'll just have to keep an eye on him. Maybe, because they've gone such a strong pace . . ." But he let the thought trail away unfinished, not yet ready to accept that his horse could not cope with the way the race developed.
Jonjo O'Neill said that his Holywell, fourth to Coneygree, seemed to have taken the race well. The trainer hopes to be able to run him at Aintree's Grand National meeting next month.
Channel 4 ended Festival week with some good news, the average audience for the Gold Cup being 864,000, up 7pc on last year. The peak of 1.5m viewers for the big race itself was the same as last year.
Sunday Indo Sport