Mike Cattermole: Season to be jolly!
As the year draws to an end, Mike Cattermole can't wait to see the likes of Thistlecrack and Might Bite in action again in 2017 after their performances over Christmas.
Might Bite and Daryl Jacob go their separate ways after the final fence of the Kauto Star Novices' Chase – will they get the chance to set the record straight?
THISTLECRACK SO THRILLING
Watching the King George VI Chase unfold was the stuff of dreams for jumping fans. It was mesmerising to see Thistlecrack serve it up to Cue Card et al. You couldn't take your eyes off it and at times it was hard to catch your breath.
If it was highly charged just watching it, you can only guess what it must have been like for Tom Scudamore to guide the inexperienced and often exuberant Thistlecrack around. Small wonder Tom's emotions rose to the surface on pulling up after the ride of his lifetime – so far.
I also can't imagine what Colin Tizzard must have been going through as he watched the stable's rising colossus take on and dismantle his established older star, who fought like a lion all the way home. He would have been bursting with pride and yet he remained as calm and professional as his horses. What a man.
Thistlecrack is such a powerful, muscular beast, both in appearance and deeds. He looks like an equine bodybuilder, with a huge depth to his chest which must contain some pretty huge lungs and, I am guessing, a heart to match. I mean that literally because he is obviously blessed with an extraordinary talent and the very best do have the biggest and most efficient "engines".
It has stuck with me that Phar Lap, one of the greatest of all time in Australia, had a heart that weighed about as half as much again as an average thoroughbred's heart. I also recall Jenny Pitman telling me that Burrough Hill Lad, another fabulously accomplished chaser, had an extraordinarily low heartbeat. He too, like Thistlecrack, had that "presence" about him.
And Thistlecrack has the name, too, doesn't he? In short, he has it all.
Now of course, we can't wait to see him again and Tizzard will rightly give him the chance of some match practice over fences at Cheltenham on January 28.
I wonder, if they can, whether ITV might be tempted to change their schedule and show that card on ITV1 as opposed to ITV4? Just a thought.
Now, with Native River landing the Welsh National under topweight and putting himself right into the Gold Cup picture, the Tizzards train three of the top four best staying chasers in the land (Coneygree is the odd one out). This is such a good story and is giving this jumping season some real freshness, impetus and fervour.
It is not ridiculous to even think that between them, the Tizzard trio could dominate the Gold Cup in an almost Michael Dickinson sort of way – if Cue Card shows up. Tizzard has already spoken of dropping him back to tackle the Ryanair but I hope he doesn't. He deserves another go, even if there is a feeling that he might have missed his golden opportunity last season.
YANWORTH REVEALING HIDDEN TALENTS
I must admit that I had got Yanworth all wrong. Having seen the way he dug deep to get back up and beat Lil Rockerfeller at Ascot, it looked obvious to me that he was crying out for a trip, not dropping back to two miles.
You have to hand it to the J P McManus team, which is shuffling its powerful pack quite effectively right now. This switch for Yanworth, caused by Unowhatimeanharry's emergence as a top staying hurdler, turned out to be inspired.
However, for much of the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, Yanworth didn't really look that comfortable and some of his jumping was far from top class. So, to be able to stay in the fight and then find extra over the last two hurdles up the home straight, he deserves great credit. Giving The New One a good beating, on a track which clearly didn't play to his strengths, augurs well for Yanworth.
He may not have been considered a Champion Hurdle hope at the start of the season but he is now and, what's more, he's top of the home team.
This is all quite refreshing as, nothing against The New One and My Tent Or Yours, but it would have been a bit disappointing if that pair had again fought out the finish to a race in which they had finished second and first three years before.
The door is now open for The New One to go for the Stayers' Hurdle and take on another McManus star in Unowhatimeanharry.
I am guessing that the one horse the legendary owner would like to see back to his best is Minella Rocco, conqueror of Native River in the NH Chase last March. In an ever-changing Gold Cup market, he sits low on the list but surely the 50/1 offered by SkyBet right now represents some value?
MIGHT BITE MIGHT BE VERY GOOD INDEED
Comparing times of the King George VI Chase and Kauto Star Chase can often reveal some interesting surprises. That was certainly the case this year, as Thistlecrack's King George time was only 0.3secs quicker than the time posted by Royal Vacation, who carried 3lb less, in the novice chase run just over an hour earlier.
But of course Royal Vacation was an extremely lucky winner as he was around 15 lengths behind Might Bite when the Nicky Henderson-trained chaser capsized spectacularly at the last. Might Bite would probably have been eased down but even so, his time would have been exceptional.
How exceptional is very difficult to say. By my hand timing, runner-up Virgilio, who was beaten 12 lengths, came in around 2.5secs slower than Royal Vacation, so if we allow Might Bite a similar beating to the winner, then his time would have been just over two seconds faster than Thistlecrack!
Daryl Jacob came in for some aggro after Might Bite came down. The gelding had fiddled the second last but instead of settling for much the same at the final fence, Daryl got after him and gave him a couple of stern cracks in an effort to wake him up.
To say that the plan didn't work was an understatement as he accelerated into the fence and never took off. I don't doubt that Daryl would have done something different with the benefit of hindsight. But, he is a professional jockey at the top of his game, who was doing what he thought needed to be done in the heat of the moment. Even the best make mistakes.
Meanwhile, let's hope that the fall, which was a heavy one, doesn't affect Might Bite's confidence. He is bred to be a three-mile chaser, so to have done what he had done over shorter (he had won at Doncaster over 2m3f) was highly encouraging. Nicky Henderson will be giving him plenty of schooling after this, that's for sure.
He still has it in him to be the best son of St Leger winner Scorpion seen yet.
ALTIOR JUST PURE CLASS
Just out of interest, the times of the Desert Orchid and Wayward Lad Chases on the day two of the Kempton Christmas fixture can allow a direct comparison too. Special Tiara clocked 3.46.25 against Altior's 3.47.80, but Altior carried 8lb more.
However, Altior did the job so effortlessly. Meanwhile, his old rival Min also looked the part at Leopardstown on Boxing Day.
This jumps season is approaching the halfway point now. It has been absolutely brilliant so far with the promise of plenty more thrills to come.
It's a good time to be alive! Happy New Year!