TOM scudamore was phlegmatic in defeat after his horse of a lifetime Thistlecrack was well-beaten on his comeback at Newbury.
Out of action for 10 months with a tendon injury, Thistlecrack jumped with flamboyance until the penultimate flight before his challenge ebbed away.
A distant fifth to 40-1 outsider Beer Goggles who set a searching pace on the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle, the jockey blamed a lack of race fitness for the run.
He also said it was the correct decision to race Thistlecrack in this contest before attempting to defend Kempton’s King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.
“He’s just got tired going to the second-last. Until that point I was very happy with him,” said the rider.
“He’s got all the same enthusiasm and jumped superbly. He didn’t feel any different to the horse I rode 10 months ago.
“He’s had an injury in the meantime and he was taking on horses that were all race-fit. That was the difference between him and the rest of them. He was fresh and well and happy to be back on the track, but from the second-last he’s got tired on me.
“I’d like to think he’ll improve an awful lot from that.
“They’ve done the right thing running him here today and we’ll see what the next few days and weeks bring.”
Huge crowds were at Newbury to see Thistlecrack’s long-awaited return over smaller obstacles.
Patted down the neck by Scudamore at the start, the Colin Tizzard-trained horse jumped with characteristic flair and travelled well as Beer Goggles set an honest pace.
Yet, as the pacesetter pressed on in the home straight, Thistlecrack didn’t have the acceleration of two years ago when he dominated the three mile hurdling scene.
However Tizzard confirmed that his stable star will defend his King George crown against the likes of Sizing John, Bristol De Mai and Might Bite.
He said: “Until two out it looked like he could possibly win it. Before the race, looking at the other ones that had raced four or five times, he looked like he was burly to me. I think he has run like that.
“I think he ran a little bit fresh. I think we were absolutely right coming here before the King George. He’s a big, heavy horse and he got tired in the last two furlongs.
“As long as he comes out sound we shall be going there (King George). I am just glad we didn’t go to the King George without a run. This is a very good race. I saw them beforehand and they looked race-fit and I thought he needed it.”
However nothing should be taken away from the unheralded winner Beer Goggles whose jockey Richard Johnson had made a rapid recovery from a crunching fall at Towcester 24 hours previously.
“He’s been in great form and he’s a real improver,” said the champion jockey. “I think realistically, with Unowhatimeanharry and Thistlecrack in the race, you always felt it was going to be hard to beat them, but he jumped and travelled.
“I was enjoying myself and so was he. He stayed and jumped really well.”
A clearly emotional trainer Richard Woollacott said: “It’s fantastic. I’m nearly crying.
“I’ve got fantastic support, with everyone at home working so hard.
“We’re so lucky now we’ve got a couple of owners with some slightly better horses.
“This horse is wonderful. He’s not big, but he’s absolutely fantastic.”
The Devonian went on: “There are so many ups and downs with racing and with horses. Everyone is trying to achieve the same thing – having good winners in good races – and they don’t come around all the time.
“When we bought him, I said ‘we’ll have fun’. We didn’t really expect him to keep going the way he has, but he’s tough and sound, a lovely horse.”
Earlier Willoughby Court saw off the late challenge of Yanworth to claim top honours in the Ladbrokes Novices’ Chase at Newbury, a race won in the past by three subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winners
Ben Pauling’s charge jumped impressively under Nico de Boinville and always held the edge over his illustrious rivals.
De Boinville said: “He’s very good and showed me a few gears there as well. He’ll come on for the run again, I’d say. It’s a great start.”