Colin Tizzard leaves decision on Thistlecrack until 11th hour

Trainer appears to be leaning towards option of Kauto Star for King George Chase instead

 Trainer Colin Tizzard: says final decision rests with Thistlecrack’s owners, John and Heather Snook. Photograph: Getty Images

Trainer Colin Tizzard: says final decision rests with Thistlecrack’s owners, John and Heather Snook. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Despite much anticipation before a media event at Colin Tizzard’s stables on Wednesday, the trainer had not, in fact, assembled the country’s racing reporters in order to disclose whether Thistlecrack will line up in the King George VI Chase on St Stephen’s Day.

The discussion, not to say the agonising, continues and Tizzard seems minded to do the Willie Mullins thing and leave a final decision to the last possible moment, which would be declaration day on the 23rd.

Reading the runes in such a situation can be dangerous and there was mention of it being a “50-50” decision but there were also signs Tizzard is leaning towards the cautious option of running Thistlecrack instead in the Kauto Star, a race for novice chasers on the same card at Kempton.

If that is the way the trainer jumps it will have nothing to do with what many imagine to be the prime consideration, which is the presence in the King George of his other established star, Cue Card. This veteran chaser needs to win on St Stephen’s Day to keep alive hopes of a £1 million bonus, which would be his if he followed up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

“That’s not part of the equation,” Tizzard insisted. “We’ve got to do the best by two sets of owners.” The main concern for Thistlecrack, he said, is pace. “He’d probably be odds-on in a Kauto Star against half a dozen. And they will go a furious gallop in the King George, much more than they will in the Kauto Star.

“While Thistlecrack would be comfortable racing at speed, it may lead such an inexperienced fencer into making mistakes. We just want to make sure it’s right for him. A flat-out gallop round Kempton, he could easily sit third or fourth, pick ’em up and beat ’em all. Or it could take him out of his comfort zone. We had a long discussion about it with Tom Scudamore [Thistlecrack’s jockey]. It’s not straightforward.”

Finely balanced

Newbury

The trainer emphasised the final decision rests with Thistlecrack’s owners, John and Heather Snook, though he expects them to be guided by his views, whatever they end up being. One happy byproduct of the continuing doubt is that potential rivals, fearful of meeting Thistlecrack in the King George, may commit to alternative targets, so there is no incentive to make an early announcement. But a man who has expressed the doubts voiced here by Tizzard appears, on the face of it, unlikely to make the swashbuckling decision to attack the main event.

He described Cue Card and Thistlecrack as “bloody lovely at the moment”, so there is a real chance of Tizzard landing two Grade One pots on St Stephen’s Day, maintaining his fine run in what is already a superlative season. Native River, his Hennessy winner, is still being aimed at the Welsh National and all three horses have the Gold Cup as their March targets.

By then, it will be 10 years since Tizzard sent a 100-1 shot to the Gold Cup just for the sake of having a runner in steeplechasing’s blue riband. Incredibly, he may have four runners this time, as he now trains Alary, bought out of France last month by the owner Alan Potts. “He’s a proper horse and he works beautiful, as well,” Tizzard said. “Now, he does, anyway. He couldn’t get up the hill to start with.”

The trainer was more coy about another Potts-owned prospect as he named the horses coming up his gallop. “Royal Vacation, Alary, best young horse I got . . . can’t remember his name. I’ll tell you when he’s won.” Tizzard was teasing but it required another source to provide the name of Finian’s Oscar.

Guardian Service

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