Thistlecrack became the new king of British jump racing with victory in the King George VI Chase at Kempton yesterday.
The three-mile race was billed as a head-to-head between stablemates Thistlecrack and Cue Card, but it turned out to be a procession for the younger horse, with winning jockey Tom Scudamore able to punch the air in celebration before crossing the line.
Thistlecrack, who set out an 11-10 favorite, won by about three-and-a-quarter lengths on only his fourth trip over fences.
Cue Card (5-4), the 2015 champion, held on for second place, holding the late rally of Silviniaco Conti.
“For the first time in my life I’m pretty speechless,” Scudamore said. “It’s wonderful – I thought he’d win, but I never imagined he’d do it as easy as that.”
The dominant force over hurdles last season, Thistlecrack had won all three of his previous races over fences this season but this was a huge step up – and his first meeting with Cue Card, another horse trained by Colin Tizzard.
Silviniaco Conti, a two-time winner of the race, took the small field along in the early stages, before Thistlecrack pulled his way to the front under Scudamore and was never passed.
Scudamore comes from a celebrated racing family, with his father (Peter) and grandfather (Michael) also jockeys.
“Between myself, my father and grandfather, we’ve had about 33,000 winners,” Scudamore said, “and he’s the best one of the lot.”
Connections of Thistlecrack kept punters guessing for a while as to which Boxing Day race he would contest, with the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase an apparently easier option.
On the decision to go for King George glory, part-owner Heather Snook said: “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.”
Tizzard, pictured, revealed the decision on his festive target had been made some time ago.
“As soon as I made the entry we knew which way we were going to go, although we sort of pretended we didn’t,” said the Dorset-based trainer. “He’s not a five or six-year-old, he is eight and he’ll be nine in a few days’ time.
“He’s at the peak of his powers and he’s just proved we all got it right.”
Reflecting on the mesmerising display, he added: “It’s quite frightening to watch, isn’t it?
“When Cue Card went up beside Thistlecrack six or eight out, I thought ‘goodness me’. It’s a very fickle world we live in. We’ve all seen Thistlecrack for the last few years. Now he’s had his biggest test and he’s a brilliant horse.
“He’s got everything you’d want in a racehorse,” added Tizzard.
“Cue Card could have cried ‘enough’ at the last, but he stuck his head out and finished second, so it’s brilliant.”
Thistlecrack will likely bid to cement his Cheltenham Gold Cup claims in the Cotswold Chase at Prestbury Park on 28 January, 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. “Cue Card is nearly 11 and perhaps we’ll leave him for the Gold Cup, but that could change.”
l Andrew Thornton achieved his long-held dream of riding 1,000 domestic winners when completing a 77-1 double at Wincanton on Kentford Myth.
The 44-year-old joined an elite list that includes Sir Anthony McCoy, Richard Johnson, Richard Dunwoody and Peter Scudamore when finally achieving the landmark after a career that began 26 years ago.
Both his winners, Somchine and Kentford Myth, were for one of his long-time supporters, trainer Seamus Mullins.