Scu: Thistle the one to beat
Tom Scudamore retains maximum faith in Thistlecrack despite his narrow defeat at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Thistlecrack: Brilliant at Kempton over Christmas
The big-race jockey admitted Colin Tizzard's star chaser may have been fractionally below the level of form he showed when a brilliant winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, but insisted that he was beaten by a better horse.
Many Clouds, who collapsed and died after suffering a "severe pulmonary haemorrhage" in the immediate aftermath of the Cotswolds Chase, stayed on strongly after the final fence to beat Thistlecrack by a head and Scudamore hailed the "brilliant" performance that unfortunately was to be his last.
"I was in front halfway up the run-in and Many Clouds battled back and kept on going fractionally that little bit quicker. Thistlecrack didn't feel like he stopped, he felt like he's picked up.
"Yes, admittedly maybe he wasn't quite in the same form as he had been previously and has maybe run slightly below par.
"But it's only slight and Many Clouds only had 5lb to make up with us. It was unfortunate what happened afterwards but I think on the day Many Clouds was brilliant. He was having his best performance and we were just fractionally below par. But I can't make any excuses and I still feel going into Cheltenham (Festival) he's the one they all have to beat."
Scudamore went on to suggest the narrow defeat is likely to have taught the nine-year-old novice a great deal ahead of his big assignment on March 17, for which Sky Bet make him their 7/4 market leader (NRNB).
"In some respects, to the observer, he's lost that bit of invincibility that he's had for the past 18 months or so, but we've seen in sport this weekend with the Australian Open that sometimes it's a bit early to write people off," the rider said on At The Races' 'On The Line' show.
"But if you look through history all the good horses – bar Frankel – are beaten at some point and I'd rather it was in January than in March. For a horse having his fifth run over fences I thought he coped fantastically and he'll learn an awful lot from it. Any fears over his jumping, as far as I'm concerned, are non-existent.
"The one thing with Thistlecrack is that you've got to trust him, you've got to allow him to do what he wants in many ways, and it was the same over hurdles. I learnt a lot on him when I won at Ascot over hurdles, I went to let him go and fiddle the last when he had the race won and he really came up and out of my hands. And I thought then you know what you're doing, I'll allow you to do your thing and ride you with confidence.
"He's jumped well over 100 fences in public now and he's made one and a half mistakes, if you're being picky you could say coming down the hill on the first circuit he nodded on landing at the fence coming down the hill. For a novice having his fifth run over fences I thought that was pretty extraordinary really.
"From my point of view it's people looking for something to say."
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