Owned, trained, and bred in Britain, the eight-year-old belied his inexperience and resisted a strong overseas challenge to reward the brave decision of connections to take on the big guns with their inexperienced charge.
Many doubted the wisdom of pitching the gelding in at the deep end – it was 41 years since a novice, Captain Christy, last won the coveted Blue Riband of National Hunt racing, after all — but vindication for trainer Mark Bradstock came with a gloriously valiant, heart-on-the-sleeve display from horse and rider.
Bold from the outset, jockey Nico de Boinville sent the 7-1 chance to the front shortly after jumping the first and the two gave a great sight in front, soaring over the obstacles and, one by one, taking their rivals out of their comfort zones.
Well-backed favourite Silviniaco Conti raced prominently but was beaten before the field turned for home, while last year’s hero, Lord Windermere, was detached from an early stage, and unable to get competitive on the rain-sodden ground.
At the business end only two genuine challengers, Djakadam and Road To Riches, emerged. The pair closed to within a couple of lengths at the final fence and when the leader hung to his right on the long climb up the hill, the door was momentarily ajar.
But Coneygree, who was off the track for almost two years until returning to make a successful chasing debut at Newbury in November, has made a habit of winning, of delivering under pressure.
He responded to de Boinville’s every urge, racing doggedly to deny Djakadam by a length and a half, with Road To Riches just a couple of lengths further back in third.
Winning trainer Bradstock beamed: “It’s wonderful. It’s a sort of numb feeling that you don’t really think it’s happened. It won’t sink in for a while. We have done it before in smaller races but it’s great to do it on the big stage.
“He’s a gorgeous horse, and it’s just so tragic (wife) Sara’s dad (breeder, the late Lord Oaksey) wasn’t here. I think that’s the downside, but I’m sure he’s looking down on us with a smile.
“The decision to run him here rather than in the RSA was very tricky because the forecast was so up and down. It’s a tall order for a novice to run in the Gold Cup and make all – we were aware of that.
“As Sara said, if he would have won the RSA Chase by 20 lengths – not that I’m saying he would have – then part of us would have been kicking ourselves for not running in the Gold Cup. Luckily, we made the right decision.
“If you look at the horse that won on Tuesday and Wednesday, next year’s Gold Cup is going to be pretty interesting!”
The trainer’s wife, Sara, added: “That was cool, wasn’t it? I can’t believe it. I have been saying to people ‘when we win the Gold Cup’ in the same breath as ‘when we win the lottery’ – it’s that amazing. It doesn’t happen to people like us.”
“It’s the best feeling ever. Unbelievable,” said winning jockey de Boinville. “Good horses make good jockeys and he’s such an easy ride that you could put anyone on him. I’ll be eternally grateful to the Bradstocks for keeping the faith in me.
“Coneygree is so deceptive. Even when he gets in tight, he is brilliant. These horses only come once in a lifetime. I’m lost for words, it’s still sinking in.”
It was another agonising near-miss in the race for Willie Mullins, who saddled the runner-up for the fifth time. The meeting’s leading trainer, who has had few reverses this week, was delighted with his charge, and offered no excuse.
“I must commend the winner’s connections’ decision to run in the Gold Cup,” said Mullins. “It paid off, and he did it the hard way, from the front.
“But, I was delighted with my fellow. He had every opportunity to win it, but couldn’t. He jumped great, got into a good position, and I don’t have any excuse. He’s only a six-year-old, the winner’s an eight-year-old, and to win those staying races, where stamina is key, age will always beat youth.”