Can Thistlecrack really put-it-up to Cue Card in the King George today?
This is a monumental task for a novice chaser, as talented as he clearly is. In three chase outings to date, he has defeated 137 rated Aqalim, 136 rated Bigbadjohn and 140 rated Marinero. Today he tackles a pair in the 150s, one in the 160s and Cue Card, currently rated 176, at a track that puts an emphasis on jumping accurately at speed.
A surprising and somewhat disappointingly small field will give hope that Thistlecrack can settle into a comfortable rhythm, though chances are that Silviniaco Conti and the rejuvenated Josses Hill will be at the head of affairs, making this a true test. As the pair apply pressure from the front, Tizzard’s novice chaser will need to be foot perfect to keep tabs. And just when he looks to be mounting a challenge, Cue Card will move through the gears to put his jumping under maximum pressure.
His last effort at Newbury was visually impressive, and will have given connections the confidence to take the plunge. His jumping was slick, as he powered along at the head of a small field. Five-year-old chasing debutant Ibis Du Rheu, attempted to go with him, and ultimately paid the price. He has a tendency to shift slightly to his right at his fences, which will be in his favour at Kempton. And that high cruising speed will prove a valid weapon in a race that will inevitably test both speed and stamina.
That high cruising speed is the component in his armoury that will come under severe scrutiny. Has he enough speed to lay-up with horses that are quicker than those he has competed against for several years?
His last defeat came as a novice hurdler back in April 2015. He was outpaced that day by Killultagh Vic and Shaneshill, before staying on powerfully to go down by less than a length. His last eight victories have all come at three miles, in races that tested his stamina rather than his speed. He did win at Aintree during that period, a flat sharpish track. Though that win came on soft ground, where he undoubtedly outstayed Shaneshill.
Today he faces Josses Hill; a horse that came second in a Supreme and third in an Arkle. Silviniaco Conti, though not the force of old, won the Grade 1 Ascot Chase at 2m5f last February by 20 lengths. And then there’s stablemate Cue Card; Supreme Novices’ fourth, Arkle runner-up to Sprinter Sacre, runaway winner of the Ryanair Chase and current King George supremo. Though a small field opposes Thistlecrack today, there will be no hiding place. Pace is guaranteed.
Despite all that, it would come as no surprise to see him ‘loom large’ turning for home. He is hugely talented, and a potential superstar of the sport. Had this been at Cheltenham, a largely galloping track, with a stiff uphill finish, then I would probably be siding with him over his illustrious team-mate. But not today. Not at Kempton.
Thistlecrack and Cue Card are jump racing goliaths, and their clash should make for a fabulous spectacle. However, one is a hero of today, the other a star of tomorrow.