Thistlecrack rules the World Hurdle at Cheltenham

Ireland’s total dominance, with a record-equalling six victories on day three of the Festival, was interrupted only by the World Hurdle victory of Thistlecrack, and a fitting performance it was to disrupt the potential whitewash.
Thistlecrack rules the World Hurdle at Cheltenham

The Colin Tizzard-trained eight-year-old was the standout performer in the division all through the winter but the layers were willing to take him on, feeling he had to prove his suitability to quick ground.

From an early stage it was clear such issues were unfounded. Tom Scudamore tried to settle the favourite in midfield but he jumped particularly well, travelled with authority, and eased into contention probably sooner than his rider would have liked.

Second as they approached the third-last, he had the company of old foe Alpha Des Obeaux as they raced to the second last, but the well-built Thistlecrack continued to travel stylishly and soon quickened away to win un-extended.

“Thistlecrack has been like that all season and it is lovely to get him here in the same form,” said the delighted winning trainer. “He is huge but was not always like that. John and Heather (Snook, owners) have been very patient with him and he has grown into himself the last 12 months. He has gone from a very nice horse to a superstar.

“There has been pressure last three weeks. Every day is another one ticked off. You have to do the work with the horses - you can’t just trot them around the roads - and every day is pressure.”

Winning rider Scudamore, who has been fortunate enough to ride numerous top-class horses, rates the winner the best of all. From the stands it all looked so straight-forward, and the rider confirmed it felt precisely the same in the saddle.

“I knew sitting there during the race how well I was travelling,” he said. “All the way through the race he was travelling well and took me into the race nicely and jumped superbly. That was a thrill of a lifetime. I have always held him in high regard.

“He has improved with every run. I was always very confident. It was all about getting him in the right positions and, once we jumped the last, it was fantastic. What a racehorse.

“He jumps because he is a proper horse, I am able to travel and use him all the way through. If you enjoy watching it, you enjoy riding him. I have ridden some very good horses like The Giant Bolster and Grands Crus but he is the best. How he looked was how it felt, it was a wonderful thrill.”

Scudamore was also quick to pass on the praise to the Tizzards.

“Colin and Joe Tizzard have done a wonderful job in getting him here in this form. He had one run at six and a few more last season so Colin has done a fantastic job and absolute wonders with him,” he added.

“I am just the bloke who does the steering but I am sure he will jump a fence in time and whether they want to it is up to them but he is a World Hurdle winner and he is outstanding.

“I was very calm before the race. I am older and wiser and you think these things will never happen. To have a winner like this here is very special. Cheltenham is like nothing else, it is a brilliant arena.”

Scudamore added: “I spent my whole life running around in these races, whether it be the Gold Cup, Champion Chase, Champion Hurdle, and now I finally have a horse like this. It is unbelievable. I never realised it would be so easy.”

In light of his remarkable achievements and the level of the performances from the stable stars this week, one can be forgiven for assuming the next Festival will be like this one – all about Willie Mullins.

But Thistlecrack is a horse from the very top drawer and one destined to make even greater impact in the future, if he is fortune enough to remain in one piece.

He has thrived this season and the evidence of this run suggests there could be more to come. Tizzard is already on record as having said he could be a Gold Cup horse for next year.

While that is ambitious for a horse which has never raced over fences in public, he is already second-favourite, behind Vautour, in the long-odds market.

Mouse Morris, whose Alpha Des Obeaux did little wrong but once again found one too good, was full of praise for the winner.

“He is a hell of a machine, and I have no excuses,” he said, frankly. “My fellow had a super ride, jumped well and ran his heart out. We’ll certainly consider running him at Aintree or Punchestown.”

Cole Harden, who won the race in 2015, set out to make all but was never in command and eventually run out of the places. His trainer, Warren Greatrex, was pleased with his effort but felt conditions may not have been ideal. He will have his attention switched to fences next season.

“He ran his heart out, but the ground was perhaps a bit slower than last year,” said Greatrex. “Gavin (Sheehan, jockey) said he felt great, but couldn’t get away from them.

“He was passed late on for third, but I can’t knock him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes chasing next year – he has schooled over fences a couple of times.”

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