Walsh: Thistlecrack gets my King George vote over Cue Card
Cue Card (right) gets the better of Vautour in last year's King George
PICTURE: Getty Images Walsh: Thistlecrack gets my King George vote
By Tony McFadden 4:20PM 21 DEC 2016
FIVE-TIME King George-winning jockey Ruby Walsh has said that he would choose to ride Thistlecrack over last year's winner Cue Card in the Boxing Day showpiece if he had the choice.
Walsh, who is likely to be without a ride in the King George, was agonisingly edged out in last year's race as Cue Card overhauled Vautour in the final strides to snatch victory after subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Don Cossack had departed at the second-last fence when still holding every chance.
With Don Cossack on the sidelines through injury, and Vautour having tragically died in a paddock accident, seven-time Grade 1-winning chaser Cue Card is clear on chase ratings, but faces a stern and fascinating challenge from his Colin Tizzard-trained stablemate Thistlecrack, who has been fast-tracked into open company over fences having swept all before him as a staying hurdler last season.
Despite Cue Card's vast experience, Walsh is happy to side with potential over proven form and, writing in his Paddy Power blog, said: "It's a big step up for Thistlecrack – the likely tempo of the race and the quality of this King George field is his biggest test yet over fences.
"But I think he'll prove up to it and if I had the choice I'd ride Thistlecrack in the Boxing Day feature."
A maximum of seven runners will go to post in the King George and Walsh feels that the smaller-than-usual field will be to the advantage of the inexperienced Thistlecrack, whose jumping may not be placed under as much pressure as would often be the case in a Grade 1 chase.
"This is the smallest field I can remember for a King George in a long time – and it can play into Thistlecrack's hands," added Walsh. "Last year's World Hurdle winner is looking to become the first novice to win this contest and with so few runners, it should make his life that little bit easier.
"He is relatively inexperienced with just three runs – but three wins – over fences. However, he'll get a clear sight at the Kempton fences against so few runners, rather than having eight or ten rivals to contend with at every obstacle."
Cue Card confidence
Despite Walsh's assessment, Paddy Brennan – who has won four Grade 1s on Cue Card including last year's King George – has every confidence in his big-race mount.
"In fact, he felt as good, if not better, than ever. I schooled him over fences, he jumped great, and I couldn't be happier with him."
Bookmakers are struggling to split Cue Card and Thistlecrack at the head of the betting, with both horses a top price 11-8. The supplemented Josses Hill is third in the market at 12-1.