Don Cossack back on track for Gold Cup defence
There was contrasting news for two leading Gold Cup contenders yesterday with Don Cossack reported to be getting back on track for his title defence, while 2015 winner Coneygree has been ruled out of the Cheltenham showpiece.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned Don Cossack was an impressive winner of the blue riband last March, but Gordon Elliot's pride and joy has been sidelined by injury since.
For a while his career was hanging in the balance, but he is now back in full training with Elliott and the Red Mills Chase at Gowran on February 18 has been pencilled in as an option.
Gigginstown Stud manager Eddie O'Leary said: "There's no news. It's so far, so good. At the moment, we're hoping to run in February, but we'll see.
"There's the Red Mills, but at the moment we're just trying to get him back to the racecourse."
Don Cossack is a best-priced 12/1 third favourite for the Cheltenham centrepiece, for which Colin Tizzard's King George VI Chase hero Thistlecrack is the even-money favourite ahead of his Welsh Grand National-winning stable companion Native River.
Across the Irish Sea, it was confirmed that Coneygree will miss this year's renewal as he continues to recover from a setback.
Winner of the 2015 contest as a novice but ruled out of last year's running, the 10-year-old missed the King George VI Chase at Kempton over Christmas and has been restricted to just one outing this campaign, when chasing home Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November.
Sara Bradstock, assistant and wife of trainer Mark, said: "I'm afraid it's (Gold Cup) not going to happen, which is a real shame.
"When you have a horse like this you must not take any risks and there is no point going there half-baked.
"He has just niggled the bone, where the cannon bone meets the knee. He is still walking at the moment, but we must not take a risk as these niggling things can turn into fractures.
"We will not rush him and we will make sure he is fine before he comes back. Hopefully he will go to Punchestown and win the Irish equivalent.
"We might just give him a change of scenery and run him in the French Champion Hurdle, which is over three miles and is usually run on soft ground. He might possibly make Aintree, but only time will tell.
"I think we ran him on ground we had not trained him on at Haydock, as it had only rained those two days there and there had been no soft ground to train him on."
Meanwhile, Many Clouds could run in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury rather than the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.
Trainer Oliver Sherwood is understandably not too keen to tackle effortless Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack at this stage of the season.
With the Randox Health Grand National once again his major aim, Sherwood would rather take the easier option with the 2015 Aintree hero.
"Clouds is fine, we were going to go to the Lexus but decided to miss it and he's back in full work now," said Sherwood.
"He'll get an entry in the Cotswold at Cheltenham, but I'm not that mad about having to take on Thistlecrack so if he doesn't go there he'll run in the Denman at Newbury.
"After that he'll go to Kelso in March and then on to Aintree, like last year."