Thistle bids to crack hoodoo
View from connections for Saturday's BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in which favourites have a poor record.
Thistlecrack bids to break the poor run of favourites
Colin Tizzard feels Thistlecrack has the ability to win over any trip as the King George hero aims to break the hoodoo of favourites in the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.
The last winning favourite in the Grade Two contest, which is seen as a key Gold Cup trial, was Cyfor Malta way back in 1999.
Djakadam was a faller when odds-on last year, with the likes of Punchestowns, Grands Crus and Our Vic all among the beaten favourites recently.
It would be a bigger shock than all of those put together were Thistlecrack to meet with defeat, though, given the last time he was beaten was at the Punchestown Festival in 2015.
He is unbeaten in nine subsequent starts, the last four of which came over fences, including his memorable success last time out at Kempton on Boxing Day.
"He's absolutely fine. Thursday was the first time I'd been able to school him because the ground has been frozen for the past week and a half," said Tizzard.
"Tom Scudamore schooled him over three hurdles and six fences, just to keep us all happy really, and he was brilliant. We didn't need to do it but it's quite good fun, schooling them, as long as nothing goes wrong!
"What are we all expecting? We've seen last season and this what he can do to horses mid-race. He puts on a spurt which takes them all out of their comfort zone.
"My job is to make sure we do what we've got to do with him and then when he's right, we run him. He's lovely at home, brilliant. We just need ordinary luck and he'll take all the beating – there's no doubt about that.
"He's a strong stayer who could probably win over any distance."
The lucky man on board for the past three season, Scudamore looks forward to his appearances as much as everybody else.
"It's very exciting to get back on him. He's a wonderful horse to be associated with and obviously he has carried all before him and there's not a lot more we need to say," he told Racing UK.
"You have to keep focused and keep your eye on the ball. He seems in very good order, I had a sit on him and a jump in the week. I was very pleased with him, so it's all systems go.
"It's a competitive race, you've a dual King George winner, Grade One winners, but the level Thistlecrack is at, of course you're going to be taking on the best horses.
"Hopefully it will be another good experience for him and we can continue our winning run."
Many Clouds looked as good as, if not better than ever when winning at Aintree in November but skipped the Lexus due to not being quite 100%.
"He's a horse who'd go over a cliff for you, I've always said that. People love that sort of horse. If he goes and wins on Saturday, then he's got to come into the equation (for the Gold Cup)," said trainer Oliver Sherwood.
"Thistlecrack is going to be a tough nut to beat, but the Gold Cup's not out of the question.
"I don't expect to beat Thistlecrack, but you should never be frightened of one horse. I'm very happy with him and he's in good form."
Smad Place, the 2015 Hennessy winner who also won this race 12 months ago, beating Many Clouds, is back for more but his handler Alan King is realistic about his chances of beating the favourite.
"It would be great to think that Smad Place could repeat last year's victory in the Cotswold Chase, but he is going to find it hard as it looks a classy renewal with Thistlecrack setting the bar very high," he told www.alankingracing.co.uk.
"However, Smad is in great form at home, and, hopefully, he'll again do himself justice."
French raider Vezelay, trained by Emmanuel Clayeux, was not disgraced in the Betfair Chase although he was ultimately beaten 28 lengths by Cue Card.
"I thought his run at Haydock was not too bad and we want to give him a run at Cheltenham, before hopefully coming back for the Festival in March," said Clayeux.
"We will see how he gets on this weekend and that should tell us what we do next with him. The better ground he is likely to face at Cheltenham on Saturday should suit him well."
Kylemore Lough steps up in trip and class for Kerry Lee but he was a Grade One winner as a novice.
"He's by Revoque out of a Supreme Leader mare, so he's bred to get the trip and we're very hopeful he will," said Lee.
"It's a very good race. Thistlecrack is obviously the one to beat and then you have Many Clouds and Smad Place.
"You have to give them all respect and we can't be too bullish, but at the same time we're very hopeful."
Paul Nicholls is represented by Silviniaco Conti while completing the field is Fergal O'Brien's Cheltenham specialist Perfect Candidate.