THISTLECRACK has already taken jockey Tom Scudamore to new heights after the crackerjack horse turned last season’s World Hurdle into a procession.
Yet, after a scintillating steeplechase debut at Chepstow including some breathtaking jumping that had to be seen to be believed, all eyes will be on the Colin Tizzard-trained horse in today’s three-mile mallardjewellers.com Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
Though Scudamore and Thistlecrack will only face three rivals in a race that has more depth than the aforementioned Chepstow contest, connections want the horse to gain more experience at the home of National Hunt racing before deciding whether to plan the remainder of the campaign around next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
There is even talk of an audacious tilt at Boxing Day’s King George Chase at Kempton, though the jockey is keen to keep a lid on expectations.
“Everyone throughout their whole career is looking for a horse like this to come along, so I’m very grateful he has and I want to make the most of it,” said the rider whose late grandfather Michael won the 1957 Gold Cup on Linwell.
“He had done everything we had asked him at home prior to Chepstow and it was great to see him replicate that on the track.
“He has obviously got an entry in the King George, but we will see how this weekend goes first. There is a reason for running him over fences and that is hopefully to go to the Gold Cup. That will be the aim providing everything goes well.
“It is about doing what is best for him and getting him there with the right amount of experience under his belt. Going around Cheltenham will help in that department. Hopefully he can take another step in the right direction on Saturday.”
Scudamore, 34, and Thistlecrack have won their last six starts and the jockey spoke with the horse’s owners John and Heather Snook last summer about whether to stick to long distance hurdles, and attempt to dominate like the now retired Big Buck’s, or go chasing at a relatively late stage in the horse’s career.
“I was asked if there was any reason why he wouldn’t be as good over fences and nothing he has ever done has suggested to me that he wouldn’t,” added the jockey, who has more than 1,000 career wins to his name and who has already hailed Thistlecrack as a career-defining horse because of a high cruising speed and unerring accuracy at his obstacles.
“Indeed at the end of his novice hurdle year and going into last season, I would have said anything he has done over hurdles is a bonus.”
Though Irish challenger Marinero from the yard of the in-form Henry de Bromhead cannot be dismissed, connections will be disappointed if Thistlecrack – ante-post Gold Cup favourite at this early stage – does not justify the hype.
“We don’t expect him to have it as easy as he did at Chepstow,” said Tizzard.
“It will be nice for him to get some experience over fences at Cheltenham and we obviously hope he’ll jump round and win.
“You can over analyse these things sometimes. As far as we’re concerned this is just the next step in his career. It was nice to see the rain during the week as we needed proper ground, we all do.”