Thistlecrack absence blows Gold Cup wide open
Thistlecrack, the Gold Cup favourite, has gone the way of a host of big names in being ruled out of Cheltenham 2017.
In another huge blow to the Festival's appeal, trainer Colin Tizzard revealed yesterday: "He is out for the season. He'd a bit of heat in his leg last night and was a bit sore. We scanned the leg this morning and he has a slight tear on his tendon."
The last two winners of the race - Coneygree and Don Cossack - have already been taken out, the last-named retired - while the most recent Champion Hurdle winners, Faugheen and Annie Power, were ruled out of the Festival in recent weeks.
A major consolation for Tizzard is that he also trains revised favourite, Native River, and Cue Card, which was moving easily when falling three out in last year's Gold Cup. He's now as short as 3/1 for the blue riband.
Thistlecrack, still a novice, was odds-on for the Gold Cup after cruising to victory in the King George at Kempton at Christmas. He was since beaten at Cheltenham by Many Clouds, which too would have been a Gold Cup runner only to collapse and die shortly after that race.
Bookmakers played down the relevance of the news, stating that punters are increasingly not betting on long-term races without having the concession of "non-runner, no bet".
This development greatly enhances Irish prospects, the Willie Mullins-trained Djakadam now a 9/2 chance, compatriots Outlander and Sizing John both 8/1.
"Hopefully we still have a horse," said Thistlecrack's part-owner John Snook. "We all get our fair share of bad luck. We've seen it happen to Willie Mullins with the likes of Annie Power and Faugheen, and of course Oliver Sherwood after what happened to Many Clouds.
"Whether it's JP McManus, Rich Ricci or ourselves, we all want to get our horses to the Festival and when something like this happens, it knocks the stuffing out of you, but there's nothing we can do about it."
It is understood that Snook and his wife Heather, who owns the horse with him, turned down what would have been by far the biggest money ever paid for a jumps horse earlier this season.
The future of the chaser is now in doubt as he turns 10 next January.