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Can Coneygree be compared to Denman?

BHA handicapper Phil Smith rates the exciting Coneygree a better novice chaser than Denman was at this stage of his career, but I am not convinced that he has got it right.

The Mark Bradstock trained gelding, who is now unbeaten in three runs over the larger obstacles, could not have been more impressive when romping to success against his elders in the Denman Chase at Newbury, a victory which saw him cut to 10/1 (from 20s) by Coral for the Gold Cup.

The eight-year-old beat Hennessey runner-up Houblon Des Obeaux by seven lengths, and had another useful yardstick in Unioniste a further 3 1/2 lengths back in third.

It was a performance which had Smith drooling in his latest handicappers’ blog, and he rated it the joint-best he had seen by a novice in the last 15 years.

He said: “Both Houblon des Obeaux and Unioniste have solid handicap form against established mature 3m chasers and they were blown away in a stunning time. For me it was the best performance at 3m 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.
“Yes, better than Denman as a novice, whose highest rating was 161 after he won the 2007 RSA Chase.”.

Now as much as I really like Coneygree, I think that Smith’s argument in relation to Denman is flawed.

“The Tank” may have been rated 161 after he won the RSA but he showed that the handicapper had seriously underestimated his ability with a stunning 18 length demolition job in the 2007 Hennessy at Newbury.

Denman made a total mockery of his handicap mark, and was put up 15lb to 176. That showed that the assessors had got his rating after the RSA completely wrong.

Indeed, looking at subsequent RSA winners shows how badly far out they were with Denman’s rating after winning the 3m novice contest.

Cooldine, who won the RSA in 2009, was given a rating just 1lb lower (160) and never won another race, and it was a similar story for 2011 winner Boston’s Angel who was given rating just 9lb lower than Denman (152) and has also drew a blank in 14 subsequent runs.

To me that shows that as much as the views of Smith are respected, they should not be taken as gospel and it is all down to opinion.

My opinion, is that Coneygree is a very exciting prospect who will go close in the Gold Cup next month if allowed to take his chance.

I also think, that saying he is better at this stage of his career than one of the best and most loved chasers we have seen in recent years is wrong – just as was the mark given to Denman after storming to success in the RSA.

*Coneygree today remained among 24 entries for the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival on Friday, March 13th, following the latest declaration stage.