TOM SCUDAMORE and Thistlecrack silenced the sceptics with a truly electrifying round of jaw-dropping jumping to turn the 32Red King George VI Chase into a one-horse race.
The first novice to win Kempton’s showpiece race, the commanding win more than vindicated connections for opting for such a tough assignment on just the horse’s fourth start over larger obstacles.
As a consequence, William Hill made Thistlecrack even money favourite for next March’s Cheltenham Gold Cup following one of the all-time great performances.
Those left trailing in the new champion’s wake included stablemate and defending champion Cue Card, who won the forlorn race for second, and two-time King George winner Silviniaco Conti.
These are proven performers with the Grade One wins – and form – in the book over fences but they were left to look distinctly moderate by Thistlecrack’s high cruising speed and limitless scope at his fences.
As early as the second fence, Thistlecrack took off from outside the wings of the ditch to gasps of disbelief from the packed grandstands before settling into a rhythm at the head of the field.
Yet, if anything, the crackerjack favourite improved as the race progressed and Cue Card was soon sending out distress signals as Paddy Brennan’s mount tried to assert with a mile to go.
However, Thistlecrack soon asserted on the turn for home – the extra gear was instantaneous – and was imperious over the three final fences up the home straight as the crowd saluted John and Heather Snook’s horse of a lifetime.
Many had questioned the wisdom of running in the King George, but they – and trainer Colin Tizzard – have always held the horse in the highest regard and kept their own counsel as the debate raged about the horse’s jumping prowess.
“For the first time in my life I’m pretty speechless. It’s wonderful – I thought he’d win, but I never imagined he’d do it as easy as that,” said an emotional Scudamore who was the personification of calmness in the tense minutes before the race.
“He’s a phenomenal racehorse, he’s a pleasure to ride and a great credit to everyone. To win a King George on his fourth run over fences, it just shows the hard work everyone back at the yard has done and I’m so thrilled to be part of it.”
“Between myself, my father (Peter) and grandfather (Michael) we’ve had about 33,000 winners and he’s the best one of the lot.”
On the decision to go for King George glory, part-owner Heather Snook said time was not on their side because the horse is nine on New Year’s Day.
She added: “It wasn’t that hard actually, because he had to take on the big boys sooner rather than later. Tom was happy, we were happy and Colin was happy, so we let him take his chance. We’re very lucky people.”
Reflecting on the mesmerising display, the aforementioned Tizzard added: “It’s quite frightening to watch, isn’t it? When Cue Card went up beside Thistlecrack six or eight (fences) out, I thought ‘goodness me’.
“We’ve all seen Thistlecrack for the last few years, he’s had his biggest test and he’s a brilliant horse. When he was long he was standing off and Tom was being a bit careful at the second-last and he shortened up almost like a show-jumper – he never touched a twig. He’s got everything you’d want in a racehorse.”
Thistlecrack will likely bid to cement his Cheltenham Gold Cup claims in the Cotswold Chase at Prestbury Park on January 28, but Cue Card could head straight for the blue riband.
“I suspect you’ll see Thistlecrack in the race at Cheltenham, I would have thought, just for experience really,” said Tizzard whose Native River is favourite for today’s Welsh National at Chepstow.
“Cue Card is nearly 11 and perhaps we’ll leave him for the Gold Cup, but that could change.”
Brennan was magnanimous in defeat.
He said: “You want to win, but some things are impossible and trying to beat that racehorse today was one of the most impossible things I’ve ever tried to do.
“You can make all the excuses in the world, but it’s a long time since I’ve ridden against a horse like that.
“Cue Card was really brave today and I’m really proud of him. The ground was lively enough for him at times.”
Looking ahead to a potential rematch in the Gold Cup, the jockey added: “It would be nice, but I’m very realistic and we’d need a lot of things to go right on the day.
“But on a bit softer ground, I won’t give up hope.”
Brennan did receive some compensation when the Tizzard-trained Royal Vacation was gifted victory in the 32Red Kauto Star Novices’ Chase when runaway leader Might Bite parted company with jockey Daryl Jacob at the last.
Alan King’s Yanworth emerged as a genuine Champion Hurdle candidate as he ran out an authoritative winner of the 32Red.com Christmas Hurdle in the colours of JP McManus.
Yet this will always be remembered as the day Thistlecrack came of age.