Comment: Dominant Thistlecrack looks to have Gold Cup at his mercy
Monday 26 December 2016
Andy Stephens believes Cue Card was well below his best in the King George but is still full of admiration for the brilliant Thistlecrack.
Any doubts that Thistlecrack might not be ready for the rigours of then King George VI Chase evaporated at the second fence when the eight-year-old stood outside the wings and flew to the other side without touching a twig.
This was a horse devouring a fence and, for those who might have turned away at that moment to grab another mince pie, he repeated the dose at the same obstacle on the next circuit for good measure.
Thistlecrack might have come into the race with “L plates” attached to his tail but, by the finish, he had passed his stiffest test without a hint of looking inexperienced or vulnerable.
The record books will show that the eight-year-old won by three and a quarter lengths from a trio - Cue Card, Silviniaco Conti and Tea For Two - who crossed the line almost as one.
That winning distance does him scant justice, though, because the game was up for his pursuers before the home turn.
From that point on Thistlecrack merely had to jump the final three fences to become an extremely rare thing - a novice to win a King George.
Scudamore steadied him into the last and, once on the run-in, could not resist standing up in his irons and saluting the crowd.
The only ban he risked getting was one of doing a bad imitation of Superman.
How far would he have won by had Scudamore driven him right out? It does not matter because you do not get extra prize money for winning by three lengths or 13.
Cue Card, rated 176 going into this battle, was no match for his stablemate and the suggestion from Colin Tizzard that he might have made more of a race of it had he not locked horns with him six or seven fences out does not hold much water.
Had the defending champ not done that, then people would have questioned why Paddy Brennan did not try to put his less experienced rival under more pressure.
To suggest Cue Card ran up to his best seems fanciful. I fancy the ground was as quick as he cared for - his record on slower surfaces reads better - but that is not to stay he would, or will in future, beat Thistlecrack on a deep surface.
Silviniaco Conti, not the force he was, almost dead-heated with him and he went into the race rated 162 and seemingly in decline. Tea For Two was also right on his heels, and he had a mark of 153.
Also, the winning time was only marginally quicker than Royal Vacation recorded when winning the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase - and would have been slower had Might Bite not crashed out at the last after Daryl Jacob had a rush of blood.
You could easily argue that Cue Card was not within 10lb or even 14lb of his best.
I can see him being dropped a few pounds to something like 172, with Thistlecrack perhaps elevated to 175.
A mark higher than that would surely be an over-reaction given the proximity of Tea For Two, albeit he was flattered to get so close.
The beauty of Thistlecrack is that we just do not know how much more he has left in him. Where is the bottom of that mighty, hulking engine of his?
This was a ninth successive win without being anything like fully extended.
Winning without having to stretch every sinew is a lovely trait of any racehorse because no scars are left - mental or physical.
Most firms now make him no bigger than 5-4 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with some even quoting him at odds-on.
You can understand the caution, because he seems at the peak of his powers and identifying chinks in his armour is almost impossible.
He jumps, he stays, handles all types of ground has made one of his principal rivals - Cue Card - look plain ordinary.
Another spin round Cheltenham will not do him any harm and his connections are going to address that by running him next, probably, in the BetBright Trial Chase at Prestbury Park a month from now. That will tee him up perfectly for March 17.
While Thistlecrack looks just about bombproof, you can pick holes in all his prospective rivals.
Coneygree’s fragility is a major concern; last year's winner Don Cossack has to bounce back from serious injury; Djakadam has already been been beaten in the race twice before - and so on and so on.
It is a division crying out for a bright new light. In Thistlecrack, it has a glowing beacon.