Coneygree, or Max as he is known at home, proved at Punchestown in April 2017 that he is still, despite his advancing years and fractures in three legs, arguably the best staying chaser in Britain and Ireland. With everything against him, he approached the second last going much better than Sizing John and Djakadam. Then momentarily, it all went wrong when he decided that the ground was a little too fast to jump off the long stride that would be so natural to him on winter ground. He hit the fence hard and was momentarily brought to a standstill, before picking himself up and regaining his position alongside Djackadam and Sizing John at the last. Only then did the lack of a recent run begin to tell and he was beaten into third.
However, he was so perky after the race, I would tend to agree with Nicko de Boinville (Max’s jockey) that he would have recharged and got back up if there had been another furlong to go or an uphill finish! So, onwards and upwards; he is back in training after a short break and we will have him ready to run early in the autumn 2017 if there is some suitable ground either here or in Ireland. The possibilities are the Guinness Kerry National Handicap Chase at Listowel in September, the JN Wine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal in early November, the open handicap at Chepstow or the Bet365 Charlie Hall at Wetherby.
As I sit in sweltering heat in England, it is hard to believe that there will be any suitable ground at home, but we can always hope, and I am told that the ground at Listowel is almost always soft. In fact, it may prove to be too soft as he will have been trained almost exclusively on our all weather and all the best research suggests that there is an added risk if you run on ground that is completely different from that which you have trained on, so we will be cautious and see what happens with the weather.
After an initial run, he will probably be aimed at the Ladbrokes (previously the Hennessy) Gold Cup at Newbury, unless we discover at Listowel that his superior stamina is not suited to giving away pounds of weight in a handicap race, in which case he may go back to the Betfair Chase at Haydock. He would only run in the King George VI at Kempton Park if he came out of the Ladbrokes (Hennessy) or Betfair Chase completely fresh, but we are thinking that he may skip that and head for the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January or the Denman Chase at Newbury in February, to prepare for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March. How these plans come to fruition will depend on his soundness and the suitability of the ground, as he is, and will always be, our massive and miraculous hero who owes us nothing.
Watch this space!