Friday 23 February 2018

Native to join Tizzard's assault on Gold Cup

Thistlecrack and Tom Scudamore winning the bet365 Novices’ Steeple Chase at Newbury yesterday
Thistlecrack and Tom Scudamore winning the bet365 Novices’ Steeple Chase at Newbury yesterday

Greg Wood

'I feel like I've got all the toys at the moment," Colin Tizzard said after another afternoon that confirmed that the stable he has built on his Dorset dairy farm has now joined the sport's elite. For the second week running, Tizzard took the biggest race of the day as Native River, the favourite, showed class and courage to get home by half-a-length in the Hennessy Gold Cup, while his outstanding novice Thistlecrack remains favourite for the Gold Cup after another easy win earlier on the Newbury card.

Native River was always up with the pace and bravely fought off a series of challenges before moving into a clear lead jumping the last. He started to tire in the closing stages but had enough left to hold off Carole's Destrier and give jockey Richard Johnson his first Hennessy success.

Native River is now around 12/1 for the Gold Cup in March, while Tizzard, who could also saddle last Saturday's Betfair Chase winner Cue Card in the Cheltenham race - in addition to Thistlecrack - is a 6/4 chance to win jumping's most prestigious event. He has also been cut to around 4/1 to end the season as the new champion trainer, though Paul Nicholls, who recorded a Grade One success when Irving took the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, remains a long odds-on chance to hang on to his title.

"When the other one nearly got to him, he went again, and that's the sign of an honest, strong stayer," Tizzard said. "He's in the Welsh National and he's a certain stayer, but he might just be a bit better than that. If he's in the same sort of form in March, I'd have thought that he'd join Cue Card and Thistlecrack [in the Gold Cup], and Hennessy winners do go on and do that."

Despite his novice status, Thistlecrack has been the favourite for the Gold Cup since it became clear he would move up to the bigger obstacles this year. His latest success, recorded at odds of 1/8, was as flawless as his earlier wins at Chepstow and Cheltenham, and a strong, bold jump at the last on the way to an eight-length success was a memorable way to underline his immense potential.

Thistlecrack has yet to face a significant challenge over fences, but Tizzard feels that every race serves a purpose as he tries to squeeze what would normally be a two-season education into one.

"His jumping was immaculate today," Tizzard said. "He looked more professional today, he was just guessing a bit last time. That's why we ran him, for experience.

"Any other novice, you wouldn't worry about it, but because everybody's watching him, you just need to get the experience into him. All horses can make mistakes, but it did look as good as it gets for a novice."

Tizzard can now make a fair claim to have two of the best three staying chasers in Britain in his stable and sooner or later he will run out of ways to keep them apart. For the moment, though, Tizzard seems likely to keep Thistlecrack to novice company until after Christmas, when Cue Card is due to line up for the King George VI Chase at Kempton. Victory there would leave Cue Card needing a Gold Cup win to secure a £1m bonus for landing the Chase Triple Crown, a point that is also unlikely to be lost on his trainer.

"The King George is a real test of any horse, so whether he [Thistlecrack] is ready for that yet, I wouldn't have thought [so], but no doubt we'll leave him in for a while just in case," Tizzard said. "We're doing the novice route now and we want to mind this horse. We don't want to go up the ladder six strides at a time and then slip back down." (Observer)

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