THE BHA’s chief handicapper Phil Smith on Tuesday described Coneygree as “better than Denman” at this stage of his career, following his impressive success in the race that bears the name of Paul Nicholls’ great chaser at Newbury on Saturday.
Smith has allocated Coneygree a new official rating of 166, a rise of 13lb on his win in the Kauto Star Chase on Boxing Day and a mark which puts the eight-year-old within shouting distance of Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Silviniaco Conti.
Smith’s opinion can only add to the positive column as trainer Mark Bradstock and owners the Max Partnership weigh the pros and cons of a daring tilt at the Gold Cup over the more conventional novice option, the RSA Chase.
Referring to Coneygree’s seven-length success in the Betfair Denman Chase, Smith said: “Both Houblon Des Obeaux and Unioniste have solid handicap form against established mature three-mile chasers and they were blown away in a stunning time.
“For me it was the best performance at three miles by a novice since Gloria Victis and I now have Coneygree on 166, which was the mark allocated to Gloria Victis after he won the Racing Post Chase in February 2000.”
Smith admitted that he might have underestimated Coneygree’s performance at Kempton but even so, the picture he paints in the BHA handicappers’ blog is of a steeply progressive chaser.
Smith said: “Coneygree is better than Denman as a novice, whose highest rating was 161 after he won the 2007 RSA Chase.”
Bradstock’s wife Sara told the Racing Post on Monday that the Gold Cup was “tempting and might even be the easier race”.
The Racing Post’s Sam Walker has given Coneygree a Racing Post Rating of 169, which places him squarely between the ten-year winning averages for the RSA (161) and the Gold Cup (178).
Coneygree is still a 12-1 chance for the Gold Cup with sponsors Betfred, while oddsmakers are split over his chances in what could prove a hot renewal of the RSA should all the leading players turn up.
Paddy Power appear to have decided that the Bradstock team will go for gold, offering just 8-1 for the Friday feature while they go a best-priced 7-1 about Coneygree for the RSA.
Power spokesman Paul Binfield said: “In a particularly open year where the only standout is Silviniaco Conti – a horse who has been beaten in the Gold Cup when well fancied in each of the last two years – we feel that Mark Bradstock will probably be tempted to go for the big one.”
Silviniaco Conti is rated 174 by the BHA, while another novice to hold both entries, Kings Palace, was left unchanged on a mark of 156 by Smith, following his defeat of sole rival Vivaldi Collonges at Newbury.