His seasonal debut at Newbury was impressive, but at Ascot on Saturday Thistlecrack positively purred his way to victory in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle. The magnificent seven-year-old now sits proudly at the head of the World Hurdle market, after yet another dominant display.
Ridden prominently by Tom Scudamore, he had three time Long Walk winner Reve De Sivola in his sights throughout. As they approached the second last flight he swept to the front, and with the minimum of fuss stretched clear to win eased down by eight lengths.
“He felt as impressive as he looked,” said Scudamore after the win. “To be in a Grade 1 like that and not have a moment's worry was a great thrill. It was a mighty performance.”
Speaking yesterday, trainer Colin Tizzard set out the route to the Cheltenham Festival, saying: “He is a big, strong, powerful horse and I was expecting that sort of performance and nothing less. The Cleeve Hurdle comes at about the right time. It is five to six weeks away and he will go there, then on to the Cheltenham Festival.” In typically frank fashion, Tizzard added: “He was a long way off peak fitness at Newbury. The last 10 days he's been really good on our gallop. Reve De Sivola ran a brilliant race, beat everything else a long way, and we clobbered him.”
Proven on a sound surface having won the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April, he has only raced at Cheltenham once before, when disappointing back in January at two and a half miles in testing ground. He ran no sort of race that day, and may well have been feeling the effects of a win at Wincanton just nine days earlier. However, the Cleeve Hurdle looks the perfect opportunity to gain valuable course experience prior to The Festival.
Defending World Hurdle winner Cole Harden is set to run in the Relkeel at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Behind Thistlecrack at Newbury on his seasonal bow, his trainer Warren Greatrex appears pleased with his progress. Late last week the Lambourn trainer said: “The plan at the moment will be to run on New Year's Day and then go straight for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. We want the tank full for March.”
Saphir Du Rheu ran a stinker at Ascot and is set to have a wind operation. The switch back to hurdles surprised many, me included. And what started as a season full of promise is very quickly unravelling. However, these breathing ops are becoming the fast track to success, and there’s every chance that Nicholls’ charge will return with renewed vigour. He certainly can’t be discounted from a bold run at Cheltenham in March, and current odds of 20/1 for the World Hurdle may seem extremely generous come the day.
Plenty can change between now and March, and others are sure to enhance their claim as live contenders. The Charlie Longsdon trained Kilcooley is being primed for a clash with Cole Harden on New Year’s Day, before a return to Cheltenham to take on Thistlecrack in the Cleeve. He was mightily impressive at Wetherby in October when winning the West Yorkshire Hurdle. Still only six, he has a rapidly progressive profile.
Time will of course tell if Tizzard holds the Ace in the pack. For now, World domination looks a distinct possibility.