Sunday 26 May 2019

Thistlecrack can be a thorn in Bite's side

Tizzard: Double-handed in feature
Tizzard: Double-handed in feature

Thomas Kelly

Very few who watched Thistlecrack destroy a decent field in last year's King George could have imagined Colin Tizzard's charge wouldn't start as favourite 12 months later, but here we are and he's well behind the first two in the market.

Since then, a series of unfortunate setbacks have befallen the classy nine-year-old and this is why he has tumbled down the pecking order in the betting.

Last year's renewal of the Kempton showpiece was perhaps not a vintage affair in the bracket of a Kauto Star or Desert Orchid, but the fact of the matter is that Thistlecrack jumped for fun and won, eased down, by three lengths - in the process looking every inch a Gold Cup contender.

However, the wheels came off next time out when he was beaten by a head by the ill-fated Many Clouds in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham, after what was an epic battle in testing ground.

Tom Scudamore's mount subsequently suffered a season-ending tendon injury and was put away for the season. Predictably, after his extended period on the sidelines he looked as though he was in need of the run on his recent comeback when only fifth over hurdles at Newbury at the beginning of the month.

However, the outing should have the desired effect and he looks sure to test any chinks in the armoury of Might Bite, while another which could cause problems for the favourite is stable companion Fox Norton, which Tizzard feels is worth a stab at three miles for the first time

There's no doubting the talent of Might Bite, but Nicky Henderson's eight-year-old is far from straightforward.

He landed last season's RSA at Cheltenham, where he edged out stablemate Whisper after veering all over the place on the run-in and nearly throwing the race away.

There was little sign of that drama when he won comfortably on his seasonal return at Sandown, but he fell at this venue last year when he had the Kauto Star Novices' Chase in the bag and this 'quirky' side lessens his appeal.

Second-favourite Bristol De Mai has to be respected in light of his annihilation of some fair sorts at Haydock last time, but the feeling is that he needs it much softer than he will get here and Thistlecrack looks the value option.

Might Bite's stablemate Buveur D'Air will go off short odds in the Unibet Christmas Hurdle and last season's Champion Hurdle hero can't be opposed - Nigel Twiston-Davies' former winner of this contest, The New One, looks the pick for forecast hunters.

Twiston-Davies could enjoy better fortune earlier on the card with the promising Ballyoptic. The seven-year-old scuppered his chances of winning at Cheltenham last month with a final fence mistake and he can make amends in the best possible fashion in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase.

This proven stayer was a Grade One winner at Aintree in 2016 and he certainly looked to be on his way to becoming a decent novice chase prospect when winning at Exeter in November, beating Elegant Escape by 13 lengths in the process.

He then clashed with the Paul Nicholls trained Black Corton at Prestbury Park, appearing likely to make a real race of it before getting the final obstacle all wrong and eventually being beaten by four lengths.

Ballyoptic's jumping, even over hurdles, has often been a bit hit-and-miss, but Twiston-Davies and his jockey son Sam are sure to have put plenty of work in and he is taken to gain revenge on Black Corton.

Up at Wetherby, the Sue Smith-trained Delusionofgrandeur is the pick in the featured Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase after claiming a bloodless victory at Catterick last month. While it is interesting that Richard Johnson travels up to take the mount on the lightly-weighted Aloomomo, Warren Greatrex's charge might struggle to go the early pace.

At the same venue, Smith's Dick Darsie looks like banker material in the novices' handicap chase.

Irish Independent

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