Thistlecrack impresses in Cheltenham debut
Thistlecrack, last year's World Hurdle winner who has already been touted as a Gold Cup horse for next spring - he is 4-1 favourite for the race - took another step forward in his nascent chasing career at Cheltenham yesterday.
But, long and bold, he was by no means foot-perfect in making it two wins from two starts over the bigger obstacles in the Mallardjewellers.com Novice Chase.
Sent off at 1-7 against three substantially inferior novices, the eight-year-old stood off so far at the first ditch that even with his power and scope he still dragged his hind end through the birch. Most horses would have been brought to a shuddering standstill.
It barely broke his stride, however, and apart from ballooning the next ditch, his trajectory lowered when Tom Scudamore let him stride on a bit on the second circuit and he eventually coasted to a three-and-three-quarter length victory over Irish challenger Marinero.
Had it been any normal novice chaser on his second start over fences, and his first at Cheltenham, his mistake would hardly have warranted mention. But as this was Thistlecrack, as popular as he is talented and talked of in Gold Cup terms by connections and bookmakers alike, his jumping was always going to be the subject of forensic analysis, the smallest mistakes magnified and replayed on television.
However if anyone has their feet on the ground it is Dorset dairy farmer Colin Tizzard and his succinct and pragmatic evaluation was that Thistlecrack is 'still a novice.' "If you don't get apprehensive and nervous with a horse like this you must be stone cold stiff in a coffin," said the trainer, admitting to a certain amount of anxiety watching his pride and joy.
"I was glad when Tom let him stride on a bit on the second circuit. Early on he was in first or second gear and thinking 'I'll have a crack at this one.' But he won with his head in his chest as you'd expect. I can't see any point in him sitting in his stable for six weeks until the Christmas period. I'd like to run him in a bigger field with a stronger pace but no one will take us on. At the moment he's a novice chaser." Bookmaker quotes for the King George, at least, can safely be binned.
Tizzard added: "He's was a bit exuberant in second gear jumping out of Tom's hands. He's a big strong horse who can stand off and can get in deep if he needs. He needs more experience. He's got such a big engine he is not giving himself a hard race." While not dismissive of the error Scudamore, who has waited his whole career for a horse as good as this one, was not unduly worried by it. "His best three jumps were the last three," he said. "He's just a mighty fine racehorse.
"He's a bit exuberant but with him you never feel it's a worry. You think he'll get it right at the next.
"He'll be better in a stronger race. Sometimes second time out they think they know it all but he's an exuberant lad and it didn't affect his confidence. I can't wait until next time."
Tizzard, who won the Betvictor Handicap Chase with Viconte du Noyer for Alan Potts, was out of luck with his Potts pair in the Betvictor Gold Cup, a race which ended a mini-drought for Jonjo O'Neill whose Taquin Du Seuil, an 8-1 shot, got up on the line to deny the heroic front-running Village Vic.
Winning jockey Aidan Coleman revealed he had been sweet on Taquin Du Seuil for a long time although that confidence petered out in the middle of the race. "It wasn't an easy race for him," he explained. "I was never really happy because he always seemed to be in top gear. It wasn't his class that got him home today, it was his heart."
The days' big drama came in Viconte du Noyer's race. The consequences of Le Reve unseating Nico de Boinville at the second were manyfold. Loose, Le Reve caused a pile-up at the 12th when running down the fence and meeting the field broadside. Cogry, Racing Pulse and Midnight Prayer all came to unavoidable grief. All horses were unscathed but De Boinville was taken to hospital with a suspected broken arm.