Coneygree wins Gold Cup in great front-running display

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Coneygree produced a brilliant display of front-running to win the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival on Friday, striding to victory in Britain's biggest jumps race in just his fourth start over fences.

The 7-1 shot led from start to finish, outlasting Djakadam up the hill to the post to win under jockey Nico de Boinville. In a meeting where the sport's top trainers have flourished this week, this was a surprising triumph for unheralded Mark Bradstock, who trains about 20 horses at his Oxfordshire stable.

Coneygree, who jumped faultlessly and thrived in the soft ground after overnight rain, became the first novice chaser to win the Gold Cup since Captain Christy in 1974.

''It's the best feeling ever,'' De Boinville said. ''The weather gods were looking down on us and the ground was ideal.''

Djakadam (10-1), ridden by Ruby Walsh, was a length and a half behind in second, with Road To Riches (8-1) two lengths away in third. Race favourite Silviniaco Conti faded in the final two furlongs and was seventh.

Tony McCoy, a 19-time champion jockey riding in his last Gold Cup before retirement, was never in contention on Carlingford Lough, who didn't take to the heavy ground and finished ninth.

''I knew when we got here this morning we were in trouble. He's a horse that likes good ground and . he doesn't like it when it turns into a drag,'' said McCoy, who will end his career with two Gold Cup wins.

''It was an unbelievable performance from a novice chaser,'' he added of Coneygree. ''He got them at it early and stuck at it well.''

McCoy ended his final Cheltenham Festival with just one win this week - in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday. His final run was on Ned Buntline in a race named after Britain's most successful jockey, the A.P. McCoy Grand Annual Chase, and he placed fourth.

''This is something I'm really going to miss,'' said McCoy, who was given a reception fit for a winner after the last race of the meeting.

The 8-year-old Coneygree had injury problems earlier in his career and missed the whole of last season. But he has fought back well to win all four of his races this season - including a 40-length victory at Kempton on Dec. 26.

Such was his form that Bradstock had no qualms entering him for the Gold Cup, one of the world's most demanding races, despite Coneygree's novice status that would have made him more suited to the less prestigious RSA Chase earlier in the week.

Coneygree won 313,225 pounds ($460,000) for his owners.

Earlier, Willie Mullins earned a record-equaling seventh win at a single Cheltenham Festival when Wicklow Brave romped to victory by eight lengths at odds of 25-1 in the County Handicap Hurdle.