Thistlecrack looks the real deal in Ryanair World Hurdle

Trainer Colin Tizzard’s charge is the season’s outstanding staying hurdler

  Colin Tizzard with  Thistlecrack at Spurles Farm  in Sherborne, England. The trainer has a proven record of festival success. Photograph:  Harry Trump/Getty Images

Colin Tizzard with Thistlecrack at Spurles Farm in Sherborne, England. The trainer has a proven record of festival success. Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images

 

Given it is St Patrick’s Day, and hokey “Oirish” baggage is likely to abound at Cheltenham, contrarians will be delighted to see the staunchly English Thistlecrack looking the real Ryanair World Hurdle deal.

Not only does the rapidly progressive eight year old carry a “GB” breeding tag next to his name but it’s ridden by Tom Scudamore and trained by Colin Tizzard, someone who presents an almost stereotypical West Country Yeoman-type figure.

Tizzard has a first-rate chance of Gold Cup success Tomorrow with Cue Card – with an opportunity to pick up a million-pounds bonus in the process – and is already talking about future Gold Cup attempts with Thistlecrack.

This is a man with a proven record of festival success and yet it is interesting to ponder what price Thistlecrack might be for the Day Three stamina title were he trained by Willie Mullins.

Shades of odds-against remain about the season’s outstanding staying hurdler when it’s easy to make a case for him being a lot better short-price betting value than other ‘shorties’ at this festival.

Lingering doubts about his effectiveness at Cheltenham were banished with a spectacular display here at the end of January which followed up other smooth successes at Ascot and Newbury. Significantly they also indicate a pattern of a horse who is still improving.

Novice rivals

The pair had a memorable duel at Aintree last season which ended with the Irish star crashing out at the last. Alpha Des Obeaux has done well too this winter, including winning smoothly at Gowran in January, and should relish better ground conditions here.

Previous festival winners At Fishers Cross and the Mags Mullins hope, Martello Tower, may not be as suited by quicker going while the former Gold Cup hero Bobs Worth brings a sentimental element to the race as he pursues a fourth festival victory. But the veteran’s best is surely behind him. In contrast Thistlecrack is a horse on the “up” and already holds a significant advantage in terms of achievement and official rating this season.

It is asking a lot to expect a replication of Vautour’s quality JLT Novice Chase wining performance in 2015 but the Ruby Walsh-Willie Mullins team can still emerge best in 2016 courtesy of Black Hercules.

The Graham Wylie-owned horse is a perfect example of the champion trainer’s capacity to think outside the box as Black Hercules’ profile throughout most of his career up to now has been as a stayer in the making.

He spent a slice of the winter as ante-post favourite for the four-mile National Hunt Chase with the RSA looking a back-up option and this two and a half mile contest appearing to be merely an exercise in keeping entry bases covered.

Mullins however examined his last race, the Ten Up at Navan, and instead of focusing on Black Hercules’ final fence fall concentrated on beforehand when the horse travelled almost too well throughout.

A similar free-wheeling display would have left him gasping for breath at the end of the longer races and the trainer has wound up reckoning those free instincts are more suited for the shortest of the three races.

Outlander is Mullins’ other JLT hope and has been among the favourites for some time. Along with the home-trained Bristol de Mai and Garde La Victoire he is a major contender. But Black Hercules can vindicate his trainer’s judgement.

Limini is many people’s Mullins ‘banker’ of the week in the Trull House Mares Novices Hurdle. Formerly a smart flat horse in France, Limini is two out of two over flights and overcame some sloppy jumping to win well at Fairyhouse at the end of January. If her jumping has improved, the trainer is certain of her pace. And that’s a combination that should make Limini hard to beat.

JP McManus runs six in the Pertemps Final but a first-time hood only adds to a cocktail of positive factors which encourage hope that Barry Geraghty has picked correctly with Leave At Dawn.

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