By Jon Lees
Ladbrokes Trophy runner-up The Conditional was left in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in error and will run in a handicap at the Festival, his trainer David Bridgwater said on Friday.
The Conditional’s victory in a valuable handicap chase at Cheltenham in October, on only his second start for the stable, was a signal that Bridgwater may have unearthed a replacement for The Giant Bolster who ran 15 times at the track and finished second, third and fourth in the Gold Cup.
The Gold Cup entry was made in case the new recruit followed his second place behind De Rasher Counter at Newbury with success in the Classic Chase at Warwick last month.
“I cocked up,” said Bridgwater. “I forgot to take him out of the Gold Cup after getting muddled up with all the dates and he will come out at the next deadline.
“We are aiming for the Ultima Handicap Chase on the first day, although he will get an entry in the Kim Muir, but the Ultima is the route we are probably going to go down.”
The Conditional started favourite for the Classic Chase but made mistakes and finished 22 lengths down in fourth behind Kimberlite Candy.
“He definitely wasn’t on his A-game at Warwick,” said Bridgwater. “I don’t know whether it was the track. He didn’t jump particularly well as he could never get into a rhythm but he still turned in running away.
“It was still a great run, but then he got squeezed up and he was cooked. The winner that day absolutely dotted up.
“It was a little bit of a blip. He was a bit quiet for a couple of days, but since then he has been absolutely raging. He is bang on song again, so I would like to think in the Ultima he would have a good chance.”
He continued: “He has done nothing but improve. We put him in the Gold Cup as a stupid entry because had he hosed up at Warwick, you would be thinking a horse that was second in the Ladbrokes Trophy as well should be in there.
“It would be a dream of his owner Peter Cave. It’s a dream as it is.
“Unless he does something spectacular between now and then, he is going to be next year’s Grand National horse. I would have put him in this year, but we didn’t know enough about him and I resisted.
“Hopefully he continues on the path we have him on and we have some exciting times ahead.”
The Giant Bolster, now aged 15, is still based at Bridgwater’s Stow-On-The-Wold Gloucestershire yard in retirement.
“The Giant Bolster gave us some amazing times,” he said. “It’s incredible how hard it is to find horses like that.
“This fellow has a bit of a way to go yet, but come Cheltenham I imagine he should be one of the favourites.
“Cheltenham would probably be his last race of the season and then we will aim him straight at next season’s Ladbrokes Trophy and start the campaign from there.”