David Bridgwater hopes The Conditional is still improving as he prepares to try to go one better than last year with victory in this month’s Ladbrokes Trophy.
Bridgwater has deliberately chosen to keep the eight-year-old fresh and head for Newbury’s big handicap first time out.
Twelve months ago, The Conditional had already run twice for Bridgwater following his arrival from Ireland last season, when he outran his odds to finish a close second to De Rasher Counter.
The Cotswolds trainer then took him to Warwick in the new year, and believes it was the track rather than a move up to three miles and five furlongs that contributed to his defeat there.
The Conditional concluded his successful campaign with victory at the Cheltenham Festival, in the Ultima Handicap Chase, and Bridgwater is optimistic there should be plenty more to come this season.
“That’s the plan,” he said, confirming a long-term intention to head straight to the Ladbrokes Trophy without a prep run this time.
“I don’t abuse them anyway – and he goes well fresh.”
Bridgwater reports The Conditional to be thriving after the Covid-19 lockdown provided him with a longer rest than intended since his Festival success in March.
“He’s definitely a bigger, rounder type of horse,” he added.
“When we (first) had him, he was quite a tall and lean horse really.
“But with the summer he’s had out, he’s come back in twice the size.
“Whether that means he’s twice as good, or a little bit better, I don’t know. (But) he’s certainly a different shape anyway.”
Bridgwater is convinced another big spring prize was within his grasp, if the pandemic had not intervened.
“After Cheltenham, if racing had continued, we’d have run him again – and he’d have won again, because he’d come forward so much,” he said.
“But racing was shut down, and that was it.”
He also believes that although The Conditional weakened into a well-beaten fifth at Warwick, it was an invaluable learning experience for horse, trainer and jockey Brendan Powell, who was then on board for Festival success.
“If we hadn’t run him at Warwick, we wouldn’t have won at Cheltenham,” he said.
“Brendan and I learned a lot (at Warwick).
“The (longer) trip’s not a problem. (But) the course probably didn’t suit him – the fences come quick, and Brendan was probably asking him a little bit too early, and it was just one of those races that didn’t pan out for us really.
“But I’m glad we ran, because we wouldn’t be where we are now otherwise.”
The Conditional is currently favourite with some bookmakers for the Ladbrokes Trophy after Topofthegame was ruled out for the season.