Sunday 18 August 2019

Avoiding Thistle would be novice error

Gold Cup jolly to justify punters' faith by seeing off his stablemate

Regular partner Tom Scudamore will be hoping to steer Colin Tizzard’s exciting novice Thistlecrack to another victory in the King George at Kempton today. Photo: Getty
Regular partner Tom Scudamore will be hoping to steer Colin Tizzard’s exciting novice Thistlecrack to another victory in the King George at Kempton today. Photo: Getty

Johnny Ward

For just one day - this glorious December 26, 2016 - horseracing is again a sport and not the business it has insidiously become.

Last week, a leading man in racing told me he could not comprehend that Colin Tizzard was pitting Thistlecrack against Cue Card in the same race, today's 32Red King George VI Chase. His logic was simply: what about winning the King George (Cue Card) but also the Kauto Star Novices' Chase with Thistlecrack, for which he'd be long odds-on?

I could only answer: who decides where the horse goes, he who has full ownership and dictates his accommodation or the trainer, whose task is to get him fit? And, if I were John and Heather Snook, there would be no debate: Thistlecrack would be running in the King George. Cue Card is not their concern.

Whatever he feels about it, Tizzard has taken on the challenge and, as difficulties go in racing, having 5/4 joint-favourites in one of the iconic Grade Ones in the annals of jumping is hardly one to prompt mass sympathy.

I think it outlandish that Rich Ricci would apparently never entertain running Annie Power against Faugheen.

Why not? Neither is unbeaten - and they might even dead-heat! Racing's ability to captivate the public should not be taken as a given.

An interesting King George without Thistlecrack is one of the most compelling renewals with him.

He is a confident pick to show that, despite his status as a novice, his position at the summit of the Gold Cup betting is warranted.

Thistlecrack produced some rather unsettling jumps at Cheltenham in November but that appeared to be a case of the pace being not nearly fast enough for him.

There seems no prospect of that today.

As Don Cossack supporters will lament, this race demands an ability to jump at speed, to jump at speed and to jump at speed.

When this horse gets tired it will be fascinating to see how his technique stands up. Then again, it's hard to remember when he last got tired.

While Cue Card won the race last year, he was fortunate, and Don Cossack would probably have beaten him if he had not fallen, despite doing plenty wrong before that. Moreover, Vautour was beaten by going right-handed.

If there is a little reason to moan, it is that all the Irish runners have been taken out, but Silviniaco Conti adds to the intrigue. Could this two-time King George winner roll back the years? Hardly - but he deserves another shot.

Vroum Vroum Mag's skipping the Christmas Hurdle seems to put more than a dent in any hope that Faugheen may appear at Leopardstown. Little has been said about plans for either.

Yanworth has it to find but, if he can get a generous gallop, the mount of Barry Geraghty can prove up to the task. He showed admirable battling qualities in winning on his seasonal reappearance and the best, surely, is to come from the son of Norse Dancer.

Tony Martin has a rare runner at this meet in the form of Anibale Fly in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase, with no Thistlecrack about which to fret. There is a little concern regarding the distance but Kempton's three miles are not as demanding as the trip would be elsewhere.

His Drinmore second to Coney Island was a fine effort in what appeared to be a really deep edition. Well-backed ante-post, Anibale Fly is no good thing on form, but he could have a little too much class under Geraghty.

With just six jumps winners in Ireland this term, Martin has been extremely quiet, but he fared superbly well on the Flat.

It's the last renewal of this fixture on Channel 4, with a handicap apiece at Kempton and Wetherby completing a quintet of televised offerings. Two Taffs is put forward in Kempton's 32Red.com Chase, the suggestion that he will prove a better chaser than hurdler, which Harry Skelton has already alluded to.

At Wetherby, the featured Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase is deeply competitive, weights headed by high-calibre sophomore, Blaklion.

There was not much wrong with his handicap debut when fifth in the Hennessy, yet he has dropped 1lb in the weights.

Class could tell. Just like in the King George.

Watching Brief . . .

Much was made about the 11 three-year-olds off the Flat that JP McManus took from Aidan O'Brien to be trained by his son Joseph - among them Landofhopeandglory, which runs at Leopardstown today.

As of yet, only three of the 11 have jumped and racecourse rumour - which, it must be said, is corroborated by the law of averages - suggests that there is a better one than Landofhopeandglory to come!

Joseph's decision to send over two of his rivals today - Lord Justice and Zig Zag - to Doncaster for a graded contest recently was intriguing. Was he trying to get a handle on the quality of the British juveniles?

With so much written about his McManus-owned juveniles, little attention was given to other high-class Flat horses too old for the Triumph Hurdle that the Piltown-based handler has also acquired.

Today at Leopardstown, he runs Outspoken, which was rated 99 when last seen on the level and was subsequently touched off in a maiden hurdle last year for McManus.

More intriguing is Felix Mendelssohn, which stays in the Friti Hay colours, having switched from David Simcock, for whom he was placed off a rating of 96 this autumn.

How long until the rookie trainer becomes a champion?

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