Is Thistlecrack a 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup banker? Jonathan Vine takes a look at his chances at the Festival.
Many people doubted his jumping ability, or if a novice chaser could win one of the biggest prizes on the National Hunt calendar, but on a chilly afternoon at Kempton Park, Thistlecrack proved all the doubters wrong.
Rounding the final bend, he still had stablemate Cue Card snapping at his heels. But in the blink of an eye, he was gone - pulling five, six, seven lengths clear in the space of a single furlong. The margin of victory may say just over three lengths, but Thistlecrack’s victory in the King George this weekend was much, much more comprehensive than that.
Tom Scudamore was winding his sensational stead down well before the line, celebrating in-front of a raucous capacity crowd. After the race, he managed to hold back the tears for a little while and give his thoughts on the thrill he had just experienced.
Tom Scudamore riding Thistlecrack celebrates winning the King George.
"For the first time in my life I'm pretty speechless. It's wonderful - I thought he'd win, but I never imagined he'd do it as easy as that.”
"He's a phenomenal racehorse, he's a pleasure to ride and a great credit to everyone. To win a King George on his fourth run over fences, it just shows the hard work everyone back at the yard has done and I'm so thrilled to be part of it."
Trainer to the top two in this race – and to many other big race winners over the last 18 months – Colin Tizzard spoke of his confidence in Thistlecrack before the race was even ran.
"As soon as I made the entry we knew which way we were going to go, although we sort of pretended we didn't,"
"He's not a five or six-year-old, he is eight and he'll be nine in a few days' time. He's at the peak of his powers and he's just proved we all got it right."
There is no doubting the magnitude of this victory. To win a race as massive as the King George on his first chase outside novice company is an incredible achievement – a performance that will go down as one of the best in recent history. But how much can we read into Thistlecrack’s victory and how does it affect his Gold Cup chances.
One thing we can say for sure, is that Cue Card didn’t run to his usual standard. No disrespect to Silviniaco Conti and Tea For Two, both very good horses in their own right, but Cue Card is much more than a neck better than they are. Maybe Paddy Brennan got his tactics wrong and took the race to Thistlecrack a little too early, but there is no doubting both were taken aback by the style at which his stablemate eased away from the returning king.
Thistlecrack wins the World Hurdle.
Brennan and the rest of the Cue Card team back at yard Tizzard must think up a new plan of attack before Cheltenham comes around. However, you get the feeling that there isn’t much they - or anyone else in the potential Gold Cup field - can do to stop Thistlecrack in this kind of form.
He’s such an imposing, flamboyant figure in the paddock and he manages to transfer that bravado onto the crack. Head bowed, chest barrelled, he attacks the fences with the same gusto and aggression he demolished the smaller obstacles. With every chase, his jumping has got better and better, with his win in the King George as close to chasing perfection he has managed thus far.
After Djakadam and Valseur Lido’s surprise trumping in the Lexus at Leopardstown this week – and the indecision around defending champion, Don Cossack’s return from injury – Thistlecrack’s Cheltenham Festival chances look even stronger.
Is Thistlecrack a banker or a blowout for the Gold Cup? The answer seems pretty obvious. If all bankers were as honest and as brilliant as Thistlecrack, the economy wouldn’t be in such a mess. A Gold Cup victory, at this moment in time, looks like a mere formality.