No Thistlecrack but Colin Tizzard setting sights on passing 'the ultimate test'

Fri 10 Mar 2017

Every sport has one prize that bears such significance that when victory in it is achieved, it holds an elevated status unlike any other.

In football there is the World Cup. In athletics nothing means more than winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games.

For purists of National Hunt racing there is no bigger prize than tasting glory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. And, like all of his colleagues, it is a life-long ambition trainer Colin Tizzard hopes to enjoy at some stage of his career.

Although without King George VI Chase winner Thistlecrack, who will miss the race through injury, Tizzard still looks to hold all the aces in this year's renewal of the three-and-a-quarter-mile showpiece through his two principal entries, Cue Card and Native River.

He said: "We've had disappointments before in the lead-up to big races and I'm sure for everyone who has any horse and they have a setback, it is galling, and it is no different to me. Especially the bigger names, they are the hardest for a while.

"I was devastated at the time but now I am looking on the positive side - he won a King George this season - and we haven't broken him - I am sure he will be back next season.

"We've got the first- and second-favourite in the Gold Cup and you have got to make yourself enjoy it. Anyone who has been to the Gold Cup meeting and seen the Gold Cup horses would be chuffed to have the first- and second-favourite and I've got to be.

"For me it is the biggest race of the season. It is the ultimate test of any horse. We spend a lot of time and money trying to buy horses to run in the Gold Cup, as that's what we are aiming for."

Like so many, the Milborne Port handler's association with the race that has such an illustrious roll of honour began at an early age.

He said: "I remember going to Cheltenham as a 17- or 18-year-old watching Pendil brought down once, then getting beaten by The Dikler, and Captain Christy winning there. Those are races that stick in your mind.

"We've been buying point-to-point horses and store horses for years with the pretence one might make a Gold Cup horse and now we have got the first- and second-favourite. On that side of it, it has come together brilliantly."

Having suffered the anguish of watching Cue Card fall 12 months ago when on the verge of a £1million bonus, it could have easily been thought the 11-year-old had missed his chance to triumph in the race.

But despite his advancing years, the Jean Bishop-owned gelding appears to have equally strong claims as his stablemate, the winner of this season's Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh National, of giving Tizzard the victory he longs for, after claiming his ninth Grade One on his most recent start.

He said: "Of course we would love to see Cue Card win. He started off as a Champion Bumper winner, now he is 11 years old and still running in Grade One races.

"He has done nearly everything bar win a Gold Cup. I don't know what I would think if he won.

"We thought quietly that perhaps his chance had gone, but it is definitely not now. He has got an equally good chance this year as he did last year and if he wins it would be fantastic.

"If Native River wins I will feel the same, as we've had him since he was four. He is a lovely young pretender now. He has got all the qualities.

"He has shown what a good horse he is this season, winning the Hennessy and Coral Welsh National, and then we saw something different at Newbury recently, which we didn't know he had, when sprinting clear on the run-in - we don't have to go on six or eight fences out now.

"We can save that spurt for two out and we know he will gallop up that Cheltenham hill. He has got everything and is in the form of his life.

"He has what it takes to win a Gold Cup, whether or not he does so this year. He is only seven and he is gong the right way."

He went on: "There is no way I would want one horse to win more than the other. All I want them to do is run their races, come back fit and sound and may the best horse win.

"They are very good (owners). Jean Bishop has been here a long time and is absolutely brilliant and for Garth and Anne (Broom) this is new territory for them, but they are enjoying the whole experience. As long as both horses come back sound, they will be happy."

While there is every chance of Tizzard adding a Gold Cup to his CV, there is one challenge he believes he is still some distance from achieving, despite having a plethora of horses that most of his colleagues would love to have in their possession.

He said: "We are 80 horses down on being able to win a championship, I'm sure of that. We would have to win every big race going to get near Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. There is no reason we can't win a few of them.

"There is an awful lot of luck in having these good horses. The top trainers have got top agents buying horses. They are paying good money for them.

"They are good trainers and have got the best jockeys and they've not got Grade One winners. It has got to be down to luck."

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