Snook has high hopes for Thistlecrack at Cheltenham

After close defeat to Many Clouds on Saturday, owner optimistic for Gold Cup in March

Many Clouds (yellow/green) narrowly beats Thistlecrack (orange) at Cheltenham last Saturday. Sadly, Many Clouds died  just after the race.  Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Many Clouds (yellow/green) narrowly beats Thistlecrack (orange) at Cheltenham last Saturday. Sadly, Many Clouds died just after the race. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

Owner Heather Snook feels Thistlecrack lost nothing in defeat in Saturday’s Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.

Last season’s all-conquering staying hurdler has made a smooth transition to fences this term, winning his first four starts, including a scintillating display in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

The Colin Tizzard-trained nine-year-old was unsurprisingly a warm order to confirm his place as a hot favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup last weekend, but was denied in a stirring battle with Many Clouds.

Soon after, however, came the heartbreaking news that Many Clouds had collapsed and died.

Snook said: “It was a very sad day after what happened to Many Clouds, and our sympathy is with his owner, his trainer and everyone involved with him.

“As far as Thistlecrack goes, there was initial disappointment, but we weren’t disappointed to be beaten by Many Clouds. There was no disgrace in that.

“It went down to the bob of the head and reminded me of when Cue Card beat Vautour in the King George last year. Neither horse lost anything in defeat that day, either.

Ground different

“I think of all the factors, the ground was probably the biggest one, but I don’t want to take anything away from Many Clouds, who performed brilliantly on the day and it’s just so sad what happened to him.”

Thistlecrack remains at the head of ante-post lists for the blue riband at Cheltenham on March 17th.

His odds have lengthened following his surprise reverse, but Snook is far from disheartened.

“Saturday was Thistlecrack’s fifth run of the season, so we have crammed quite a lot in,” she added.

“Whether the King George had left more of a mark on him than we thought, I’m not sure. We obviously don’t want to be beaten, but I’d like to think we’re good losers as well as good winners.

“There was so much hype around him and at least some of that has gone away now. We’re looking forward to the Gold Cup and hopefully we’ll get some spring ground, if we’re lucky.

“The main thing is to try to get him there in one piece. I’m sure if all goes well, he’ll run his race.”

Ruled out

Sandown

The Alan King-trained chestnut was due to have his prep race for the Champion Hurdle, but may now head straight to the Cheltenham Festival next month.

A winner of six of his seven starts over hurdles, his only defeat came to Yorkhill in the Neptune at the Festival 12 months ago, and he beat The New One in the Christmas Hurdle last time out.

According to the ante-post betting he is the leading British-trained challenger for the Champion Hurdle this year.

Owner JP McManus’s racing manager Frank Berry said: “He’s just met with a small problem. He’s tweaked a muscle in behind – it’s nothing serious but he can’t run this weekend.

“Hopefully it won’t take too long to come right and we can get going with him again. Whether he runs again we’ll just have to play it by ear. He could go straight to Cheltenham.”

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