Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 22 April 2018

Thistlecrack confirms status as staying king

Thistlecrack ridden by Tom Scudamore jumps the final fence on his way to winning the Liverpool Stayers Hurdle Photo: PA
Thistlecrack ridden by Tom Scudamore jumps the final fence on his way to winning the Liverpool Stayers Hurdle Photo: PA

Greg Wood

Willie Mullins saddled two more Grade One winners at Aintree yesterday in his pursuit of the jump trainers' championship, but was reminded too that he has not yet cornered the market in outstanding National Hunt performers, as Thistlecrack recorded a brilliant success in the Liverpool Stayers' Hurdle.

Tom Scudamore set out to make all the running on the 2-7 favourite and with the exception of a slight mistake at the second-last, horse and rider cruised to victory just as smoothly as they had in the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last month. "I've had harder days walking the dog," Scudamore said afterwards, and Colin Tizzard, Thistlecrack's trainer, must now decide whether to leave the eight-year-old in a division he completely dominates, or steer him towards a chasing campaign next season with the Gold Cup as the ultimate aim.

"He's head and shoulders above the rest of them," Tizzard said. "I thought he looked better again today. He never came off the bridle. He's so good at this discipline, so brilliant, but he looks like he'd jump a fence as well and the biggest race in the country is the Gold Cup. That would be a draw, no doubt. If we go, we've got to go nearly now. The more he wins so easily like that, I don't know if it makes it easier or harder [to decide]."

Thistlecrack is already the 10-1 third-favourite for next year's Gold Cup without jumping a fence in public, in a market headed by this season's winner, Don Cossack.

Yorkhill also added a Grade One victory at Aintree to his Cheltenham success in the Neptune Novice Hurdle, but was forced to dig a little deeper than expected on the way to a two-and-a-quarter length defeat of Le Prezien in the Mersey Novice Hurdle.

Paul Townend replaced the injured Ruby Walsh aboard Yorkhill, who pulled hard for his head in the early stages and tugged his way to the front with nearly a mile still to run. The 30-100 favourite was then clumsy over the second last, and took a stride or two to respond when asked for a final effort.

"Paul had a horrible ride," Mullins said. "I think we'll put a different nose band on the horse next time. He looks Champion Hurdle material, but he could easily go novice chasing next season. When Ruby got off him after winning at Cheltenham, he said: 'This horse could win the Arkle with his mouth open'."

Yorkhill remains the 3-1 favourite for the Arkle Trophy next March, while he can also be backed at 10-1 for the Champion Hurdle. Townend completed a short-priced double when Douvan effortlessly extended his unbeaten run since joining the Mullins yard to nine races, including five starts over fences.

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